Mum did not look at him even then. She was doing her trick of pretending not to know Nick was in the room, even though her whole body was tense with awareness of him. She had her eyes turned away, and he could see her schooling her face into blankness in case he spoke to her. (p. 277)
Right from the beginning it's clear that there's something odd about teenage brothers Nick and Alan and their family arrangements. They've moved house a lot; their father's dead and their mother shuts herself away upstairs; she's a magician, but so are the people they're fleeing. Oh, and Nick has a sword and knows how to use it. Alan prefers a gun.
One night a couple of kids from school turn up: Mae (whom Alan has a crush on) and her brother Jamie, who has been visited by an incubus and marked by a demon. When Nick and Alan -- against Nick's better judgement -- start trying to help Mae and Jamie, a whole tangle of secrets and suspicions begins to unravel. Who's the girl in the photo that Alan's kept hidden? Why is Nick different? And is he going to eat the fruit at the Goblin Market again, and dance for the demons, and let them taste a few moments of life?
I loved this book: I've been following the author's blog for quite a while, and the headlong humour of her posts is definitely there amid the darkness and magic. It's also very well paced. (There's one scene that felt too abrupt, but it's very much the exception.) Nick, a misfit at school, dyslexic and violent, is very much the focus of this novel -- though it's told in third person -- and his discoveries about his heritage, and the secrets Alan's kept from him, build slowly to a climax that skews the whole story and surprised me a lot.
There are a lot of likeable characters in this book: Nick so damaged and determined, Jamie innocent and brave, Mae, Alan ... Plenty of good strong female characters, too, though the focus is on the brothers and their relationship. Brennan's prose is deceptively light -- there's some very fine writing here, but no purple prose or showy pyrotechnics -- and she has a good ear for dialogue. And I am looking forward very much to the second and third books in the trilogy.