Meet Gemma Fae Cross. She’s a real tough cookie. A pollster by occupation, she’s currently taking a break from full-time employment so as to avoid any perceived conflict of interest with her boyfriend, who’s running for the House of Representatives. Sadly, this has left her with little to do besides act as arm candy in the D.C. social scene, and hone her boxing skills at the gym she considers her second home. That’s right, she’s a boxer, capable of holding her own against would-be contenders and wannabe Rockys, able to kick serious butt when the occasion demands. And she’s just been informed that she, like her mother before her, is a tooth fairy.
I’m sorry, a what?
A tooth fairy. A wings-sprouting, magic-wielding, tooth-collecting member of a hidden mythological race, dedicated to preserving the innocence of the world. Not only that, but Gemma is that once-in-a-generation warrior, called to battle evil and stop threats to the Olde Way.
Yeah, she doesn’t exactly take it well at first either.
Gemma soon realizes that being a fae is no laughing matter, and that the threat is all too real. One of the fae has gone rogue, and is somehow robbing children of their innocence, turning them into dark, disturbed, sociopaths and spree killers, brainwashing them in the prime of their youth. And Gemma’s the only one capable of stopping him. First, however, she has to learn how to use her own magic and figure out what it means to be one of the morning fae.
Gemma’s road to self-discovery is a rocky one, especially when it brings her into conflict with her normal life, threatens to interfere with her boyfriend Avery’s run for Congress, and catches the attention of a notorious Washington investigative journalist/blogger. With so many problems, it’s a shame she can’t play one off against the other ..
Tooth and Nail has a great, if somewhat bizarre premise. After all, “tooth fairy” isn’t exactly in the top ten when it comes to supernatural creatures worthy of headlining an urban fantasy. Heck, zombies get more love and they’re shambling corpses. Safrey’s approach is an entertaining one, postulating that an entire race is responsible for sneaking into homes at night to collect the teeth of the innocent for various magical purposes, and that otherwise, they’re relatively normal people. Hey, in urban fantasy, anything is possible, and even the tooth fairy can be serious business.
Gemma herself makes for an unusual, engaging, promising protagonist. For all that urban fantasy is chock-full of kick-ass heroines, very few of them ever seem to spend any time training or practicing their skills. They slip on some leather pants, grab their guns and stakes, and head out to fight evil. Gemma’s a boxer first and foremost, and that puts her in a class all her own. She’s rough, capable, stubborn, and independent. She knows how to take a hit and keep on fighting. Under most circumstances, this would make her an ideal heroine.
Unfortunately, Tooth and Nail is also a flawed book. It took me a while to wrap my mind around why I was dissatisfied with certain elements, until it hit me: this is a book about bad decisions. Gemma refuses to take her new role and responsibilities and nature seriously. She pretty much blows off her training, gives her mentor no end of grief, and lets pride and stubbornness prevent her from properly preparing for her job. Her mentor, a devilishly sexy fae named Svein, gets understandably fed up with her, but still sends her out on her first assignment alone, knowing full well she’s horribly unprepared. Even after Gemma’s gotten a better idea of what she has to do and what she’s up against, she approaches the problem head-on, with all the subtlety of a brick. The reader is left blinking at her foolishness and wondering if maybe Gemma took one too many hits to the head at the gym.
(An example: The villain is an evil dentist. So Gemma fakes a dental emergency so she can get an appointment and check out his operation first-hand or first-mouth, I guess. Then she needs to go back, so she engineers a real dental emergency by letting a guy at the gym slug her until she chips a tooth. And while she’s there, she basically tells the bad guy she’s on to him. While she’s in the chair. While he’s fixing her tooth. I’m sorry, but there’s got to be a better approach then letting the bad guy anywhere near you with dental instruments.)
(Another example: Gemma breaks into the Watergate on her first job. Without knowing what she’s doing. And then calls her “dispatcher” to ask if she’s supposed to pick the lock to get in. Instead of reading the freaking manual. And then she gets caught on the way out by a lurking reporter, who recognizes her as the arm candy/girlfriend of a politician running for Congress, who can’t afford any scandal. No, she doesn’t handle it well at all.)
(A third example: Gemma eventually reveals her fae nature to her boyfriend in the worst possible way, at the worst possible moment. And she falls apart when he doesn’t take it well. Just as a note, this is not the woman you want giving you bad news. She’d probably blurt it out at the dinner table, or during sex. Awkward timing!)
But I digress. Tooth fairies and evil dentists aside, series of bad decisions overlooked for the moment, there’s also some pacing issues near the end which make it feel as though some scenes were cut out or glossed over for lack of time. And in all honesty, the big conflict and ultimate resolution lacks a certain excitement. While I applaud the creative way in which Gemma solves a major problem, it’s hardly dramatic, and it makes the subsequent showdown between Gemma and her nemesis feel even more out of place in contrast. (Not to mention, I had trouble taking the connection between Gemma and her opponent seriously. It seemed unnecessary to tie them together in such a fashion.)
But don’t take all this to mean that Tooth and Nail is a bad book, for it’s not. It’s actually quite entertaining, and a fun read. It’s only when I stopped to think about things in detail that all these little issues popped up. This is one of those books where, if you turn off your higher thinking functions, you can really enjoy yourself. I think that Jennifer Safrey has a lot of promise, and if she continues to flesh out this setting and these characters, this could develop into a solid series. All the elements are in place, they just need tweaking and fleshing out. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for future installments, should they materialize. And in the meantime, I’ll try not to have any more nightmares about losing teeth, or evil dentists.
Oh, and by the way, I love the cover. It is gorgeous. Points for that.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at www.michaelmjones.com/news.