A Dawn Most Wicked by Susan Dennard

A Dawn Most Wicked Cover

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Daniel Sheridan is an engineer’s apprentice on a haunted Mississippi steamer known as the Sadie Queen. His best friend–the apprentice pilot, Cassidy Cochran–also happens to be the girl he’s pining for … and the captain’s daughter. But when it looks like the Sadie Queen might get taken off the river, Daniel and Cassidy have to do whatever they can to stop the ghosts that plague the ship.

Fortunately, there happens to be a Creole gentleman on board by the name of Joseph Boyer–and he just might be able to help them …

4 STARS

CW: loss of a loved one, graphic injury (including eye injury), violence (including gun violence)

It’s always nice when novellas rate high, though I do feel a bit of guilt when the novellas strike me as better than the rest of the series (which was…definitely the case here). Feelings about the series as a whole aside, though, A Dawn Most Wicked was a brief but sharp look into the events that sparked the formation of the Spirit-Hunters, and it was an excellent character study for Danny Sheridan. I found him average at best in Something Strange and Dead, sort of a typical early 2010s love interest, but this novella put a spotlight on the qualities in him I most appreciated, and framed his story in a way to explain his initial coarseness when we met him in SSD.

Best read immediately after SSD but before A Darkness Strange and Lovely, A Dawn Most Wicked explores how Danny met Jie and Joseph, and what saw him get all tangled up in the art of hunting rogue spirits and Hungry Dead. He was an engineer’s apprentice aboard the Sadie Queen, a steamboat on the Mississippi, and he was damn good at it.

So why leave?

I won’t spoil that for you, because that’s hardly any fun, but I can tell you that it showcases the best of Danny Sheridan, particularly the way he considers the well-being of his loved ones before he ever considers his own safety and health. His first instinct is to protect people from harm, and when he can’t, it haunts him. It’s the entire reason he comes across so gruff in the first part of SSD, even though he softens with time: he worries about the people he gets attached to, especially when they’re not ghost-savvy like he is, or like Joseph and Jie.

We also learn exactly how Danny ended up a Spirit-Hunter, which is enough of an odd job that it had to be explained at some point. Lucky circumstance did most of the work, but seeing the earliest shades of the Spirit-Hunters’ teamwork was fantastic, because it’s clear from the start that they work well together.

We also get a little bit of Danny’s softer feelings, love and regret in particular, especially concerning Cassidy Cochran. It is genuinely a bit heartbreaking, the path these two end up going down, and I’d love an AU where they didn’t have to make the choices they did, because I think they make an excellent pair. At the same time, their relationship once again shows the very best of Danny, and what he’s willing to do to ensure the happiness of those he holds dear.

I think the only weakness of this novella, really, is the fact that elements of Danny’s past, particularly that of his family history and his mother’s death, are hinted at as if they’ll play a major role, and then left by the wayside as the ghosts step up and into play. I hoped it was a set-up for even more information either in the novella or the series proper, but the lack of payoff really disappointed me. It was more of a distraction than an addition of depth, structured as it was.

Additionally, Jie and Joseph felt flat, and while I understand they didn’t show up until about halfway through, and it was only Danny’s first real interactions with the pair of them, there was still something missing.

Ultimately, though, A Dawn Most Wicked moves at a quick clip, provides great background info on Danny, and adds just a little more to the story without spiraling out of control and distracting from the core series. I did really enjoy it, and I’m delighted that it was in the back of my copy of Something Strange and Deadly.

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