Book Review: At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Paranormal, Historical Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Dark Talents
Publisher: Saga Press (July 11, 2017)
Length: 432 pages
At the Table of Wolves is the first book I’ve ever read by Kay Kenyon. It’s also the beginning of a new historical paranormal fantasy series set in the prelude to World War II, starring an extraordinary woman who uses her superpower to go undercover to spy for the British. Following the “bloom” in the aftermath of the Great War which resulted in the appearance of psychic talents in about one in a thousand people, Kim Tavistock has manifested the “spill” ability to compel others to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets to her. Not wanting to alienate her friends who might shy away from her if they ever find out, she has always kept her true nature close to her heart. After all, few people find themselves comfortable around a spill—for obvious reasons—though as an intelligence agent, Kim’s unique power would make her a formidable weapon indeed.
Upon her return to England in 1936 to visit her father after an unsuccessful journalism career in America, Kim is troubled by the political upheaval in Germany and the headway the Nazis have made on the research involving military uses for those affected by the bloom. Inspired to help the British, she decides to report to a facility to have her power tested, and is promptly recruited by her caseworker for a dangerous mission to expose a possible German spy. Eager to lend a support, Kim agrees to infiltrate the estate of an aristocratic family during a weekend where she will get meet some of England’s most prominent fascist sympathizers and even a visiting Nazi officer, the seductive and enigmatic Erich von Ritter.
It’s no secret that alternate history fiction set around the time of World War II has always been popular, but believe it or not, the theme of paranormal superpowers versus Nazis has become a growing trend in the subgenre too. Thus, the big question I asked as I sat down to read this novel was, what does it bring to the table? We have a protagonist who has no experience in espionage who unsurprisingly ends up committing a number of mistakes and falling into a bunch traps, always appearing to be outsmarted, outclassed, and outgunned at every turn. As such, the book doesn’t quite meet the typical requirements of a spy novel, and neither is it a satire, so we are presented with none of the humor despite Kim’s bumbling incompetence. Nor does At the Table of Wolves read much like a thriller, for that matter; the majority of the story has little action or suspense, not to mention the pacing was on the slower, plodding side. So, what is it that makes this one stand out? What makes it special?
In truth, I had a rough time getting a bead on this novel, which made answering these questions difficult. The story is pretty decent, light and fluffy enough to provide some entertainment, but now that I’m finished with it, I just can’t help thinking it could have been more. A good example is Kim, who would have been an admirable protagonist, except her character was constantly being undermined by her own poor decisions and inconsistencies. To her credit, she is strong-willed and brave—though I find it hard to truly admire someone who charges headlong into danger while disregarding orders and advice from more experienced agents, and then is shocked when everything blows up in her face. I was also somewhat let down by how little her spill came into play. The effects of that particular power was supposed to give Kim a strong advantage in her spying, but even in this area she underperformed and became overshadowed.
I should mentioned too that the story is told via two main POVs: Kim, as well as her father, Julian. Kenyon attempts to build tension by injecting potential friction between her two main characters, making Kim suspect that her father may be a Nazi sympathizer, when in truth he is actually working on the same side—as one of Britain’s most senior intelligence agents, no less—a development that the reader discovers very early on. For the entire novel though, we are kept in suspense for the epiphany in which estranged father and daughter will finally learn the truth, but alas, the moment never comes. While I understand this is the first of a new series, and that the priority is the resolution of the book’s main story line, still, the situation left unresolved between Kim and Julian felt to me like a glaring loose end. This robbed the conclusion of its emotional impact, which was something the book desperately needed, so hopefully the sequel will take big steps to address this.
Speaking of which, I’ve decided I may continue with the series, despite my issues with this one. For all its flaws, At the Table of Wolves is not a bad book, mainly because the entertainment value is there along with room for the premise to grow beyond what it is now. I didn’t see anything to get really excited about, but given the direction of the last couple of chapters, I have a feeling that may soon change with the next installment.