August 15, 2013 by Heidi
Welcome to South Dakota! There’s farms, ranches, faces on mountains, and this time of year–a whole lot of motorcycles. Plus, it’s home to the bulk of the Little House series which I absolutely adore (and I will be stopping in De Smet!).
Title: Wide Open [Goodreads]
Author: Deborah Coates [Website]
Standing: Book 1 in a series.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: March 13th, 2012 by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover; 304 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.
The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment.
The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to.
As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace. Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation.
Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.
I grew up with two very distinct but powerful experiences of South Dakota. My father grew up on a farm in eastern South Dakota where the hills roll with fields of corn, wheat, and soy. My mother grew up in the heart of the Black Hills, which were somehow so very different than my own Big Horn Mountains, so full of life and adventure along Spearfish Canyon Creek and in the woods. Interestingly enough, Wide Open managed to strike a bit of a balance between these settings, taking place in western South Dakota, but near the Badlands in farming country. I’d been wanting to read Deborah Coates’ debut since its release in 2012 largely because of this fact–the setting. I’d heard Wide Open described as a “rural fantasy” being an urban fantasy type plot set in a rural community, and as someone from a rural area who adores urban fantasy I could hardly turn the prospect down.
And thus, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that my favorite aspect of Wide Open was, indeed, the setting. I felt as if Deborah Coates really pegged a rural farm community–always in each others’ business in good ways and in bad. The hard-working and down to earth people for whom an army career is a normal choice and an outside company entering the community is looked at with both excitement and trepidation. Coates got the weather, the thunderstorms that can rise up out of nowhere, and the landscape of farmland and badlands. And though I loved this aspect of Wide Open, I wasn’t completely sold on the story or characters.
I loved that Hallie was an army Sargent on leave from serving in Afghanistan, but I do feel as if this was a bit of untapped territory for Coates. Hallie has extreme anger issues and an inability to control her temper along with a strong proclivity to violence. While I see this as a personality trait that may often be present in those who initially join the military, I don’t really see it as one that would stick with a person who had the discipline to advance in the ranks. Yes, Hallie is dealing with some extreme emotional stress, but it all seemed very surface to me. I wish Coates had explored Hallie’s own experiences in Afghanistan, particularly her death, rather than focusing her issues solely around the death of her sister, Dell. I really don’t mind if my heroines are pig-headed and hard-edged, but at the same time I prefer mind to be quippy rather than foul mouthed.
In terms of story, I also found the plot of Wide Open to be a tad underwhelming. Again, I felt as if there was a lot of potential under the surface that Coates wasn’t quite able to delve into. She very loosely incorporated some mythological aspects that I personally would love to see explored more deeply. It didn’t particularly bother me that the story was predictable, as I didn’t feel as if Coates was attempting to shock or surprise us when the villain was unveiled, and there was quite the exciting climax, but in the end I was left feeling a little incomplete. Boyd’s weird ability to be wherever Hallie happened to be getting into trouble within seconds wasn’t really satisfactorily explained for me, and Hallie’s future in South Dakota was set up so conveniently that I’m unsure I’ll ever get my wish for more delving into her past.
Still, as much as I waver back and forth in this review, I can state with certainty that Deborah Coates shows potential. While I obviously didn’t love Wide Open, I did enjoy reading it enough that I will likely pick up the second installment to see how she and this story have grown in the past year. I loved that she wrote this story without a real romantic plot, but began to form a relationship that felt very real to the characters involved, particularly Hallie. I also like that Hallie is different from most urban fantasy heroines. I may miss my wit and sarcasm, but sometimes a step off the beaten path is refreshing. I’m also quite curious to see how the supernatural is further explored in the world Coates is creating–there are no grandiose powers or frightening species as of yet, and I’d love to see her continue with such a different take on the genre. All in all I’d say that Wide Open was worth the very short amount of time it took to read. Not amazing, but with definite potential for future books–and besides, who doesn’t want to hold these gorgeous covers?