By: Matthew Samuels
Publisher: Self-Published, Matthew Samuels
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Content Warning: Strong language and violence throughout, with some graphic injury detail, scenes of involuntary restraint, giant spiders, dead animals, implied cruelty to animals, and some fantastical creatures of a horrifying nature
Trigger Warning: Cancer, mention of previous self-harm and an instance of a drink being tampered with
“I look around…Purple flowers litter the forest floor, contrasting with the bright green grass…I feel…amazing, suddenly noticing all the little insects scurrying around on the leaves, how elaborate the bird song is. I could practically skip.” – Matthew Samuels, Small Places
I enjoyed reading Small Places by Matthew Samuels. It was a very different twist on magic and urban fantasy. We follow the main protagonist, Jamie, through his first-person narrative of his adventures to heal, Gaia, the Earth Spirit. We see him as a young boy, white hair that makes him stand out, with his best friend, Sam in a small English village. They are asked to get medicine for a sick village man. Little do they know they would be entering a realm with magic, and meeting Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, who gives them the medicine. While it is a jarring experience for the two young children, Jamie feels a connection to the vivid and magical world he has entered. As he grows up things change, as it does for all of us. Sam has moved on and Jamie works in London. Melusine is a long past memory, until Jamie must go home to see his mother, who is dying of cancer. A card from Melusine asking to meet him changes his life forever.
There are so many different twists on stories of magic and fantasy. When Jamie meets Melusine (Mel) again, she needs his help and will pay him. Gaia is in trouble, wreaking havoc on Earth. The only way to stop it is to get the fey, both from the Seelie (think of them at the “good” fey) and Unseelie (the “bad” fey who practice dark magic) courts to help her. The two courts do not trust each other, so it will be no small feat to accomplish. And she needs Jamie. Why exactly she needs Jamie is something we really don’t know, but she is willing to take him on as an apprentice. He has no magical ability, which is very interesting. In just about all fantasy books, the main protagonist has some magical ability. Jamie has none that he demonstrates nor any affinity for it. Mel’s explanation about why she needs Jamie boils down to this:
“Gaia,” she says slowly. “The earth spirit. She who gives life. Jamie, I get that this is going to be strange for you…but I don’t have time for any training montage bullshit, ok? I need your help for about 2 weeks…No questions, keep your eyes open and do what I say…” – Matthew Samuels, Small Places
The characters in this story were a very strong point. The banter between Jamie and Melusine made me laugh out loud at times. It is sarcastic, witty and poignant all at the same time. Their strong connection and chemistry made for a very enjoyable story. The fey are little uptight, as Mel would say, and she is not exactly welcome. But it doesn’t stop her sarcastic and witty exchanges with them.
The story is wild ride from the 2 realms of the fey courts, making alliances and trying to help Gaia. The pacing is good, although I did feel quite a bit of the main action happened at the end. However, it did not diminish my enjoyment of the book. This is in large part due to the excellent character development. The reader is so engrossed in Jamie listening to Mel’s interactions with other magical beings, it moves the story along at a good pace. I would highly recommend Small Places.
Summary (from Storytellers on Tour)
Small Places is a no-nonsense urban fantasy fairy story. Jamie, a shy, lonely boy, runs an errand for a witch as a child, helping them ease a family friend’s experience of cancer. Thirteen years later, Jamie’s own mother is suffering from terminal cancer as well, and he’s come back to his childhood village to spend more time with her before the end. He receives a card from the witch, Melusine, asking for his help – and casting his mind back to his childhood experience – goes to see her, hoping she can help his mother. Amidst freak earthquakes and storms, he’s drawn into working with the bad-tempered Mel in an effort to find out what’s wrong with Gaia, the earth spirit, as they visit the Seelie and Unseelie courts, finding the former racist and the latter paranoid, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls along the way. It’ll appeal to fans of Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series, Charles de Lint’s work or Clive Barker’s Abarat series.
Jamie: The story is told from Jamie’s perspective. He is very relatable. His parents divorced, he went through a rough time, he has a job he is merely satisfied with, and flatmates that are getting on his nerves. I could see so many people in him and the everyday, sometimes mundane things we go through. He is introverted and doesn’t seem to do much outside of work. When Mel asks for his help, he feels “alive” again. He loved returning to her hut in the forest, the memories of the joy coming back. As he helps her, he begins to realize his own strength. Being with Mel in the different realms makes him feel like he belongs there.
Jamie and Mel’s conversations are brilliant. They trade barb for barb, neither one really getting the upper hand. They were two characters whose chemistry on the pages made for a very entertaining story.
Melusine: It was a really great choice to make Mel look like a “typical” witch. When she goes out with Jamie, she is dressed in regular clothing. It’s a great juxtaposition. The reader can relate to her on 2 levels: as the typical stereotype of a witch, but also as a witty, sarcastic and sometimes, grumpy person. After a while, her appearance fades into the background. Mel is great and I loved her character. Her quick comebacks and sarcasm often had me laughing out loud as she dealt with every character she encounters. In an encounter with a human jogger who stares at her, Mel retorts:
“You can fuck right off, Lululemon,” Mel mutters, her face contorting with anger momentarily. She makes a sharp gesture with her right hand and there’s a sudden cry from the girl behind us….
“My foot!” she complains… “I think I’ve got a blister!”
“Several.” Melusine cackles softly as she hurries along. “And more to come, I promise you that.” – Matthew Samuels, Small Places
Jamie almost plays the straight man to her comedic remarks. You just have to love Mel and their relationship!
There are many other characters in the story. There is gender fluidity representation in this book, as Mel tells Jamie there are no binary categories, there is more to it than that. Merovech Drake is the magical quirky little inventor. They are the opposite of Mel. They always have a smile on their face and is happy to see everyone. In the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, there are fae that Mel has dealt with for hundreds of years. She deftly navigates both, thinking the Seelie are “prissy” and Unseelie are paranoid. Jamie manages it all, without any magic. At first, he is in awe of all he sees, but after a time, he not only gets used to it, but feels it is where he belongs. He interacts with the fae, the fauns and other magical creatures as if it were second nature.
Small Places is fun, albeit sometimes gritty, ride from start to finish. While the pacing was a little slow at first and quite a bit happened towards the end of the book, it is off-set by excellent character development. Jamie and Melusine are not only well-developed characters, they interact on a realistic level. They are a perfect complement to each other, she the witch of blood and flesh, and he the human with no magical ability save his courage and loyalty. The fae are interesting in that the Seelie and Unseelie courts are the exact opposite, one prissy and aloof, the other paranoid and dangerous. All of these characters put aside their differences for the greater good of saving Gaia. The story of saving Gaia, the earth spirit, can almost be a metaphor for us and how we are treating this planet. A small group of magical beings and one human save the earth. Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. Small Places is an excellent addition to the urban fantasy genre and I highly recommend it.
You can find out more about Matthew Samuels on his website: http://theabditory.co.uk/
You can purchase Small Places on Amazon
My thanks to Storytellers on Tour for providing me with an eBook of Small Places in exchange for an honest review.