In the Hellmaw series, a war in the daemon land Araunt has left exiles stranded on Earth, some at perpetual war with one another and other desperate to return to their homeland. This novel, set in contemporary London, features tattoo artist Quills who collects magical "essence" as she inks designs onto humans and fellow daemons alike. That’s all the backstory you need to enjoy this delicately nuanced, suspenseful urban fantasy. Despite being labeled Hellmaw 7, it’s easily a stand-alone. The narrative was strong and clear, the characters memorable, and the mystery and its resolution provided enough twists and turns to keep me turning the pages late at night.
The leader of one of the daemon factions has been killed, and the crime is going to be pinned on Quills unless she can discover who really did it. I especially loved that although Quills can assume any shape, she prefers the dark skin favored by her grandmother. Added to this are the natural color of her luminous blue eyes and the way her own tattoos can glow. And move. My all-time favorite tattoo is a wing that, when properly positioned on her body, can fan open to reveal a secret carrying place (in which she stores essences taken from other daemons).
I also loved the historical flashbacks that poignantly illustrated how Quills has been changed by her contact with humans, shaping her contemporary relationship with her human companion, AJ. Besides its aspects as a thriller, it’s a tender romance and story of letting go and truly becoming your own person. Hellmaw: Of the Essence is a satisfying read on many levels and marks Harbowy a talent to watch out for.