Pale Realms of Shade starts with a killer opening line—“It was not the being dead that I minded, it was the hours.” Before he was a ghost, Matthias was the sort of detective who has “silver bullets in [his] gun, and a crucifix under [his] flak jacket.” The story starts with tense standoffs with his now ex-lover, Lorelei, and then his now ex-partner, Sylvester, regarding just how he wound up dead.
It’s an urban fantasy and a ghost story. It’s a noir angel story (something Ian Tregillis did better in Something More Than Night). It’s a deeply religious story. It has a killer opening line and the prose soars at times (see the examples below) but is uneven to the point that the better writing hurts the work because it clashes so with some of the rest. Wright also has an awful habit of giving long lists of things (although he is much more disciplined here than in One Bright Star to Guide Them. The imagery is powerful and it’s deeply resonant on a philosophical level.
“I saw her eyes start to change with anger. There is a reason why the Irish are said to have a temper, and it is not just because the English beat the snot out of them for a thousand years of history. No, there was something wild and Celtic in the change in her face, and I saw in her the old, fiery blood of fairy kings who danced on the wind-roaring mountainsides underneath an unscarred moon, or who battled with the giants from the sea. Her change of expression looked almost like when some shade like me steps into a body not warded from us: the whole demeanor changes, the stance and look and voice. At that moment, she wanted me dead. Or deader. Or whatever the word is.”
“To the other side, the moon was black, the seas were blood, and nightmarish shapes stalked amid the burning ruins like warhorses with scorpion tails and human faces, long fangs and long hair, crowned in gold and wearing iron vests.”