I recently read May Day, a vampire detective novel by prolific self-published author Josie Jaffrey who has written nine books and several short stories to date. I enjoyed her humour and take on vampires, so I was excited to receive a copy of her new YA novel, The Wolf and the Water. Plus, I do love that cover!
“The god divided the gardens into ten parts, one for each of his sons, and gave to the first-born the central portion, which was the largest and best.
He named him Atlas and made him king over the others that he might use his strength to protect the kingdom.”
Jaffrey’s upcoming book is set in Kepos, an ancient Greece-inspired city at the base of a valley. Cliff faces hem in Kepos to the North and South, while the sea sits to the East, and a great wall stands in the West. The city is overseen by ten Houses, each with a patron god, and a priesthood responsible for maintaining the wall that keeps the unknown threat beyond it at bay.
The daughter of the Glauks – the leader of the lowest dekokratic house – Kala is seen as irrelevant among the other aristocrats and even openly disdained due to her limp. Kala’s only allies are her father, and Melissa, her sort-of girlfriend.
When her father dies suddenly in his study, Kala finds the circumstances suspicious and is determined to find her father’s killer. But when her mother remarries in a matter of days, Kala must be careful to avoid her new stepfather as she stumbles across the secrets of Kepos.
“Both heights were sacred, cliffs and walk. Both were warded by the acolytes. Both were forbidden to the citizens of Kepos.”
Being a murder mystery, May Day is fairly dialogue-heavy, so I was excited to see Jaffrey’s accessible writing in a more visual style with The Wolf and the Water.
The setting is unique, and I enjoyed reading about Kepos’ cultural and religious practices. There is a complex social structure that involves the ten houses, an aristocracy, tenants and slaves. The book comes complete with a dramatis personae, making it easier to navigate the named characters. Fantasy elements are more or less absent, but this book would certainly appeal to fans of ancient Greece and Rome.
The majority of the tension comes from Kala’s new stepfather, a violent and power-hungry villain. This element of the novel was the most interesting, though at times it was possibly a little dark for YA. I was also invested in how the new patriarch affects Kala’s already tense relationship with her mother.
I loved the relationship between Kala and Melissa. Coming to understand what it means to each woman was touching. Interestingly, May Day also contained a sapphic romance but not necessarily lesbian representation.
However, there were a few aspects of the story that I felt were underdeveloped. I didn’t quite understand why the priesthood’s big secret had to be a secret, and thought that the mystery could have been dealt with more engagingly. Similarly, I wasn’t sure about the motivation behind the various plots for power. Jaffrey does acknowledge that status doesn’t mean anything outside of Kepos but doesn’t delve deeply into house politics, trade or economy, other than pointing out a divine hierarchy, and the fact that some of the house leaders are greedy or violent.
Overall, this book is an exciting set-up for Jaffrey’s new Deluge series, and contains some unexpected twists. According to her website, the series will follow a number of characters as they uncover secrets buried in ancient landscapes.
As a further note, the focus of Kala’s story is how her limp disadvantages her both socially and physically. While this makes sense in the context of Kepos, I wouldn’t recommend this book on the basis of disability representation.
The Wolf and the Water will be published on 8th October 2020 and is currently available for pre-order. Many thanks to Josie JAffrey for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warning: Physical and emotional abuse, threat of rape, ableism