Fly Up into the Night Air by John Houser

Rating: 8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 
Title: Fly Up into the Night Air
Author: John Houser
Genre: Fantasy, crime
URL: Smashwords
Price:US $2.99
Other Information/warnings: Violence, including towards minors
Summary [from the author]:
Presenter Advocate Harte Walford wants to do the right thing and bring a cruel attacker to justice. His father opposes any involvement with the case because the victim may be a pretty boy—a male prostitute. The situation deteriorates when Harte discovers that the perpetrator has powerful connections on the town council.

My review:
It’s a fortunate thing that the sample of this book was relatively clean as well as intriguing, because it meant I bought it. Had I known about the level of editing errors in the rest of the book, I might have hesitated – and that would have been a damn shame, because Fly Up into the Night Air is a lovely book.

But it is riddled with incorrect and missing word usage – ‘wonder’ for ‘wander’, ‘fir’ for ‘fur’, and so on – and towards the very end of the book there is a passage which is either mistakenly pasted into the end of the chapter, or which has had most of it removed by error. This kind of thing is inexcusable because while an author might overlook homonyms, it’s hard to see how they can overlook gibberish.

Normally this would be enough for me to hurl the book aside, but by the time I realised how bad the editing was, I was already in love with the characters, and would have rated this higher but for the mistakes. Strangely, aside from the editing, the writing is actually rather good – spare, clear, descriptive without being flowery. Houser has created a cast of wonderful characters, young and old, male and female, and that and the superb world building are what makes this book worth gritting your teeth over the silly mistakes.

Harte is a man in the wrong job, destined by family tradition for a lawy career in a narrow-minded, caste-ridden town. When he takes up the case of a young rent boy beaten near to death by young bluebloods, he enrages the town worthies – and his own father. But he persists with the assistance of the good and delightful Watchman Griff, and delves into the underbelly of his home town named after his own family, but which will still reject him if he steps on too many toes.

We meet Stilian when he is already secure in his career as a Judge Veritor – but though he ranks highly now, it was not always so, and his status cannot console him for the loss of his boyhood friend and bonded, Kit. We see Stilian at two points in his life – first as the unwanted Canny son of a brutish family, escaping with the mercurial Kit to Grayholme, a boarding school and refuge for Canny children, then in his role as Judge Veritor, someone who is used for his psychic powers to divine the truth in a trial, but despised by many for those very same abilities. He is still grieving hard over the death of Kit two years before from a flu outbreak at Grayholme, and survives mainly through his friendship with his mentor and adoptive father, Hugh.

Stilian’s entry in Harte’s world came as a shock, and the progression of their friendship certainly didn’t follow as I expected. I won’t say more, save to say the plot twists and turns and ends far from how I thought it would. Stilian and Harte’s relationship is a restrained, fragile thing, and despite the somewhat fevered long summary the author provides at Smashwords, this book contains no explicit sex. It’s all rather Victorian in that way 🙂

The minor characters in the story are delightful – Sister Grace with her mixture of tough love and humanity, her fellow nuns, Peli the beaten boy’s friend, Harte’s parents, and the people who live in the shadows of Walford’s Crossing. All are vividly and affectionately drawn, with plenty of humour and deft description. The villains are less vividly drawn, though nonetheless easily imagined. The story of venality and privilege crushing justice may be depressingly familiar but Houser makes it fresh for this novel.

I can’t say more than if you can overlook the errors, this is a wonderfully satisfying read.But one note to the author if you’re reading this – please please please put a way to contact you on your website. I would have written to you privately to give you a chance to revise your book before I reviewed it, as the mistakes are easily fixed, but there was no way to do so.