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The Beyond
Devil s Isle #4
by Chloe Neill
Berkley, $16.00. 336pp
Published: June 2019

I've enjoyed the 'Devil's Isle' series by Chloe Neill, but I think it may well be over now and it kind of slipped away from me. Certainly, this fourth book feels like an ending to everything but that hasn't stopped authors before when publishers come knocking with money for another sequel.

The question is whether I'm satisfied or not and I don't think I am. While I appreciated the ideas that led Neill to create this series, I got a kick out of book one and the sweep is more than capable, I've had problems with every one of the individual sequels, each of which has attempted to tell its own story while progressing that grand arc on a little further.

'The Veil' set us up well, introducing a New Orleans battle ravaged from a war with supernatural beings from beyond the Veil of the title, a mystical curtain to hide their world from ours. It didn't tell the story of that war, it told of what happened after it ended. We won but the Big Easy was largely destroyed, magic contaminating what's left so that even electronics rarely work and with some paranormals stuck on our side of the Veil. Claire Connolly, our heroine, is a Sensitive, someone affected enough by the magic left in the city to develop some powers of her own. And that's a problem, as the authorities, known as Containment, work in black and white and, to them, anything magic is bad.

So far, so good, but then problems crept in. 'The Sight' told its story at a remove, because we're there with Claire and she isn't where the story is for much of that book. I appreciated that approach but didn't enjoy it as much. 'The Hunt' mostly serves as a distraction from the story arc, progressing it a little while spending much of its time deepening the regular characters. I expected 'The Beyond' to be a powerful escalation, but it turns out to be an overly simple conclusion.

Neill writes very well. While she's not Seanan McGuire, she has some of the same attributes, namely that she's really good with characterisation and the everyday background to the worlds she creates. It's hard not to enjoy or be caught up in what she writes. However, sometimes she gets caught up in that, too, and that results in novels that play out too easily. I think of them as TV episodes, because they build and explode and wrap up quickly enough that they could be told in an hour-long show with enough room left over for commercials.

This is a great example of that. The back cover blurb lets us know that it's been a year since, spoiler alert, the Veil was deliberately ripped back open again so war can resume. This time, the sides are a little different, as Containment now realises that all magical beings are not the same. Many are on our side and fight along with us to prove it, as do Sensitives like Claire.

It also lets us know that there's a new enemy in town and the only chance to stop her and her cohorts is a magical weapon built on the other side of the Veil. Claire and her beau, Liam, must travel into the Beyond to retrieve it, then return to New Orleans to use it and so save the city. That's great but it's not a summary of the beginning, it's a synopsis of the entire book in a few short lines, even including a hint at the storm that engulfs New Orleans while this is happening.

To be fair, Neill manages to spin this simple plot into a couple of twists, each of which play very well, but there's next to nothing of surprise here, other than the fact that the inevitable conclusion to the story may well be the inevitable conclusion to the series too. That I wasn't expecting at all, as you'll realise if you read the last paragraph of my review of 'The Hunt', in which I wonder how long the series will run.

I wrote about the forthcoming fourth book:

'Now, I'm not sure what it'll be yet, but it does promise to have all the conflict that 'The Veil' didn't have, all the action that 'The Sight' didn't have and all the plot that 'The Hunt' doesn't have. I have no idea how long a series Neill is planning here (her main 'Chicagoland Vampires' series has already reached book thirteen), but it may be that we'll look back from much later on and see these first three books as a quiet promise to set the scene before everything hit the fan and 'quiet' became a memory.'

How wrong could I be? This does have conflict, but hardly in the way that I expected, and it has very little plot. At least it has plenty of action, so I'm one for three. Well, one for four because I doubt this is going to reach a fifth volume because it really doesn't need one now. Of course, if I'm as right as I was last time out, that means that we'll be getting new books on an annual basis until I'm reading in a care home while the nurses wonder why the old dude with the white beard is reading novels with romance covers.

No, I think we're done and what story remains will be told entirely in our imaginations, as we wonder what the future will hold for the characters we have come to know very well indeed, whether human or para or indeed the city of New Orleans. Frankly, if you've made it to book four, you're not going to give up now and the progression of old friends and their budding relationships is not a bad thing. Will you care about how simply (if not easily) that it gets wrapped up? Maybe. Maybe not. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles in this series click here
For more titles by Chloe Neill click here

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