Free Agent – J.C. Nelson

About the Book

When it comes to crafting happily-ever-afters, the Agency is the best in the land of Kingdom. The Fairy Godfather Grimm can solve any problem—from eliminating imps to finding prince charming—as long as you can pay the price…

Working for Grimm isn’t Marissa Locks’s dream job. But when your parents trade you to a Fairy Godfather for a miracle, you don’t have many career options. To pay off her parents’ debt and earn her freedom, Marissa must do whatever Grimm asks, no matter what fairy-tale fiasco she’s called on to deal with.

Setting up a second-rate princess with a first-class prince is just another day at the office. But when the matchmaking goes wrong, Marissa and Grimm find themselves in a bigger magical muddle than ever before. Not only has the prince gone missing, but the Fae are gearing up to attack Kingdom, and a new Fairy Godmother is sniffing around Grimm’s turf, threatening Marissa with the one thing she can’t resist: her heart’s wishes.

Now Marissa will have to take on Fairies, Fae, dragons, and princesses to save the realm—or give up any hope of ever getting her happy ending…

304 pages (paperback)
Published on July 29, 2014
Published by Ace
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

Recently I’ve had a soft spot for urban fantasy, probably because I’ve had so many weighty things on my mind that urban fantasy has turned into a lighter place for my mind to wander. I’ve needed it. This book appealed to me for that reason, and also because I really do tend to enjoy twists on fairy tales, and this certainly is one.

In a lot of ways Free Agent is what you’d expect.  There is the tough protagonist (Marissa) with a mysterious past who isn’t afraid to kick ass and take names. She carries weapons, and knows how to flirt and use her sexual appeal to her advantage. She also suddenly finds herself in the middle of something that she doesn’t understand, barely able to tread water. She lets her sarcasm fly, and seems to effortlessly float through the lightning fast plot without any mental fallback or moments of oh-my-god-I-am-so-overwhelmed that most humans would feel. Honesty, that’s part of the reason why I read urban fantasy, though. Sometimes it is nice to read about strong characters that don’t get beaten down by life, no matter how chaotic and horrible life becomes.

Free Agent has a lot of heart. It is obvious that the author had a lot of fun while writing it. The twist on our world, on fairy tales, on society in general is great fodder for some fantastic escapism. The twist on just who, and what, the fairy godmothers (and godfathers) are is fantastic. The world has layers and dividing lines, and gratefully Nelson isn’t afraid to address class issues. There are the poor, the downtrodden, and those who have been given it all, and our protagonist Marissa has to navigate all of those social classes effortlessly. It grates on her, and it has made her jaded and tough. Add to that her slavery to Grimm, and you have an interesting and slightly complex world that addresses many issues that aren’t addressed in urban fantasy.

It’s very unique, and it can be pretty thought provoking, which I honestly didn’t expect.

The plot is fast paced, and when you understand just how complex the world is that Nelson has created, you’ll soon discover that maybe things should have been slowed down a little. The magic system, for example, never really stopped confusing me. I never did figure out what makes some people “princes” and why it was so important for them to marry “princesses.” There are charms, and spells, and magic mirrors, and yes, it is all very charming, but I was never really given any explanations as to how or why any of this works. I’m not expecting anything scientific, but it felt very unexplored, and that made it feel two-dimensional and, at times, unbelievable.

The book itself felt very unbalanced, and the previous paragraph touches on why. There is a lot of potential for some fantastic depth, a world that has the ability to really sucker-punch readers and delivers something absolutely new and unusual. The problem is, things moved so quickly I never really learned the hows, or whys, behind so many aspects of the world. I enjoy fast paced novels, but this one could have benefitted by being slowed down, and some of the moments savored so the relationships between characters, the rational behind actions, and the world itself felt more real, and grounded.

This obviously impacted my overall enjoyment of the novel immensely. The relationships, along with everything else, didn’t feel as fleshed out as I prefer. The secondary characters breezed in and out of the novel at important points, they said witty things and made me laugh, but they didn’t really feel overly memorable. The romance lacked a tension that I wanted. A lot of the characters acted in ways that were so stereotypical they were unbelievable – mostly the princes who acted like they deserved everything because they were a prince. That’s fine, and realistic to their status, but when I didn’t really understand the what/why behind their status, their actions lacked believability. And that’s the case with many characters in the novel.

(Moment of honesty: I almost feel like re-reading the novel to see if I missed some key information along the way. I must have, because I’m rarely this lost – and that certainly isn’t the author’s fault. If I do end up re-reading it, I will re-review it. That’s only fair.)

Basically, Free Agent is a lot of fun, and I think the series will probably improve as it continues. The author has obvious talent, and Nelson’s excitement really is infectious. I absolutely adored the author’s twist on a fairy tale world. Not everything is as wonderful as it might seem. Nelson bravely addressed social class issues, and her characters are easy to love. That being said, I just wasn’t sold. There’s a world of difference between an enjoyable story, and an enjoyable story that I believe and care about. I think Nelson will bridge that gap in future novels.

 

3/5 stars

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