My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the things I like most about The Grendel Affair, the first SPI Files novel, is that while Agent Makenna “Mac” Fraser is smart and competent, she bucks the all-too-common urban fantasy trope of the ‘strong female character.’ I’m happy to see that continue in The Dragon Conspiracy, even if she’s working to improve her combat skills for the sake of necessity. Unlike many of her peers in the genre, Makenna isn’t all about kicking ass and casting spells. Don’t get me wrong, I love that type of character, too, but once in awhile it’s nice to see a ‘strong female character’ whose value is something other than martial arts and gunplay.
Mac is a seer – a not-quite supernatural person capable of seeing through all enchantments, wards, disguises, or what have you to the scary monster underneath. And when you work in law enforcement for a community that has become adept at hiding, that talent comes in very handy. Instead of having the gift and the ninja skills, Mac relies on her partner Ian Byrne to do the fighting and the bruising. Still, Mac’s self-defense courses come in handy as she and Ian hunt down stolen Dragon Eggs: seven massively powerful diamonds that are in the possession of a nasty (actual) dragon, right up until they’re nabbed by harpies.
In addition to harpies, Shearin gives us her take on the Gorgon myth, presenting ‘gorgonism’ as a virus rather than a race or curse, which makes for an interesting shift. One such virus victim, Helena Thanos, shares her sense of ‘just because we’re monsters doesn’t mean we have to be monstrous’ with Mac’s boss Vivienne Sagadraco, a literal dragon lady. Many of the immortal characters of this book have an amusing sense of dignity to go with their sense of superiority, and, surprisingly, their loneliness.
The SPI Files remind me a lot of Seanan McGuire‘s Incryptid series, and it’s getting a harder to keep different authors’ visions of the supernatural straight (i.e. which creatures are sexy in which universe.) For Shearin, it’s goblins, and more specifically, sex club owner Rake Danescu. Unfortunately I tend to have a bad reaction to authors telling me that certain fae races are so sexy it doesn’t matter if their seduction techniques are just on this side of predatory. Maybe it’s too much Tolkien, but I can’t fathom goblin hotness, so when Rake joins the ranks of other urban fantasy bad boys in using said hotness (along with money and privilege) to seduce our protagonist, I’m left cold. I’m probably supposed to see his thrilling heroics as signs that there’s a heart under all those expensive clothes and gleaming teeth, but given Mac’s lukewarm attitude toward him throughout, the evolution in their relationship by the end raises my eyebrows.