Sometimes, you just want to get out and fight monsters. But bureaucracy! That’s the situation Zoey Prescott faces in Memories, Lies, and Other Binds by Katy Foraker. This urban fantasy twist on vampire-hunting and immortality mashes up time-worn tropes with a dose of family drama and unexamined angst. It’s a fun ride!
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.
Zoey Prescott stopped aging in her twenties. That was in the eighteenth century. Since then she has been an employee of the Research Institute of Demonic Entities and Rarities (RIDER), a private corporation bent on researching the supernatural and protecting the mortal world. Zoey has risen to head a department in RIDER, but her status as a quasi-immortal bars her from rising much further, and RIDER’s bureaucracy means she isn’t allowed to leave headquarters. When Theo, one of the most infamous extant vampires—and Zoey’s brother—surfaces, however, Zoey inveigles the brass for permission to join the field team sent to capture him. Of course, that just launches her into a conspiracy that upends everything she thought she knew about the world.
This book is clearly a labour of love from a writer who knows these genres and wants nothing more than to build on top of what has come before. First, there are little nods and tips of the hat to previous franchises—much of the vampire lore will feel very familiar to fellow Buffy fans, and at one point Zoey mentions a group of vampires in the Pacific Northwest whose skin sparkles in the sun (she thinks they are actually faeries). Foraker pulls off these homages and callbacks, making them fun without being too intrusive. A lot of urban fantasy writers feel the need to change up the lore and mythos for supernatural beings—Twilight being an example of that—and there is a good argument for doing so, but this book is an example of why there isn’t anything wrong with sticking to the classics.
Foraker also pulls off a tricky bit of characterization in Zoey, our viewpoint protagonist. Zoey’s willfullness and stubbornness are an appropriate response to the way she has been cosseted and infantilized by her own organization. Yet it is challenging to write a protagonist whose special power (in this case, a lack of aging) is entirely passive. In these situations, the protagonist often seems to lack agency, which generally makes for a less satisfying story. Zoey might not pack as much oomph as her comrades, but one thing she has is a lot of courage and an agenda of her own when it comes to Theo. This kicks off what is probably the best part of the book.
Memories, Lies, and Other Binds is at its best when it questions how supernatural powers affect one’s ability to participate in the mortal world. This happens over and over, from Zoey’s old flame Augustine to Charlotte’s desire for a “normal college experience.” RIDER’s entire existence is predicated on the idea that the supernatural has to be managed—they run private nature retreats for werewolves when it’s that time of the month—in a way that does not disrupt the flow of ordinary, mortal lives. Foraker explores all of this mostly on the individual level, with some hints there and there (like with the werewolves) at structural inequity as well. Throughout the book, we are encouraged to move from viewing RIDER as a benevolent force to a much more morally grey one.
Alas, that brings me to what didn’t work for me about the book, and it’s a pretty big one: the plot. I just feel like we had a little bit of a bait-and-switch situation; the first part of the book sets us up to see Zoey’s lack of aging as this big mystery that needs to be solved. But as we get deeper into the conflict with Theo and learn more about the villains behind the scenes (that’s all I can really say without spoiling it), events occur that basically obviate the mystery of Zoey. I don’t like it. However, this is an example of a criticism where the author and I happen to disagree about the story that should be told here rather than something that is objectively wrong with the book. So I’ve tried to set aside this preference and look at the rest of the story and ask myself, “do I like what happens from there?”
Yes and no. I really like Zoey’s attempt to process and understand what’s happening to her. Foraker has a talent for description in her prose and puts it to good use here. Her relationships are also irrevocably altered, and I appreciate the nuance at work here and the way that Zoey herself is going through a fair amount of trauma (and trauma bonding).
The antagonists, on the other hand, are just kind of boring. A little mustache-twirling for my taste. I was hoping for something deeper or certainly something juicier, and for a consequent conflict that really required more exertion on the part of the protagonists to resolve. Everything gets wrapped up nice and neat, little bow on top, with the door left just open enough for a sequel.
So where does that leave us? Well, I would read a sequel. Despite my reservations about the plotting, I enjoyed reading this book, which is usually the criterion that matters most to me. Memories, Lies, and Other Binds reminds me a lot of The SPI Files, by Lisa Shearin, and hits that same sweet spot of fun characters, some good dialogue, and interesting fantasy set pieces. This book is not a revelation, not an earth-shattering entry into the genre. Nevertheless, Foraker has managed to create something that is comfortable without feeling cliché, and I think that in and of itself is a pretty good accomplishment.