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Preliminaries. If my count is right, this is the tenth book in the series of reviews I am writing for the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards. It's the NINTH blog post, because I reviewed Christopher Woods' Legend before the finalists were announced, and I haven't gotten around to writing the blog post on it yet (but I will). This is the fourth post for a contender in the category 'Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal).'
Disclaimers. I don't read a lot of fantasy, unless my betters compel me. Thus, I was previously unaware of the author or his books. Two things to say about that:
1. It appears that I may have to abandon this prejudice without remorse, as there are some really excellent things being written in the field.
2. Somehow, the craft of the author allowed me to pick up the EIGHTH book in a series, and dive right into the world, without wandering around for hours being lost. Kind of amazing to me, really.
A word about the cover art. At the intersection of (whenever possible) and (when I remember it), I like to give credit to the artist behind well-executed cover art. I would do that here, except that I can't find an attribution. It's a nicely done portrait of a hero-type sitting in a throne/chair with two birds perched by his shoulders, gloomily illuminated by a burning city. I USED this cover art to show my first-born son the quality and theme of some of the books I'm reviewing... (prepare for a segue into the review)...
A brief-ish review....so, imagine my surprise when I start reading this anticipated grim, Road-Warrior/Conan volume, and discover that it opens with a paintball fight, ambushing a werewolf and assorted friends with explosions of paint, leaving them as angry, garishly-colored clown animals, out for revenge.
With a daylight-loving vampire at the controls of the getaway ATV.
Yeah. I wasn't expecting THAT, either.
This was looking like it was going to be a FUN book!
And that turned out to be the case. Note: I MIGHT have expected the opening if I had been familiar with the story, but, as mentioned above, that isn't the case.
Nate Temple is the lead character, and he has a posse of strange creatures who follow him around. That includes, among others, the aforementioned vampire, who feasts on sun, instead of blood; the werewolf, accidentally attacked by paintballs; a sort of were-cat; three dragons; another man-sized reptile with a fondness for stiletto heels; and other significantly strange characters, including a sentient house as well as a sentient tree. Nate himself is enabled/afflicted with an indeterminate number of magical powers, and has some serious influence over others. For example, in this book, both Van Helsing and Baba Yaga are semi-employees.
He also has supernatural enemies as well, two of whom figure prominently in this adventure. Both are out to kill him, albeit for different reasons. One is angry because Nate diverted his gang from following him; the other is Nate's multi-great grandfather, who (mistakenly) believes Nate to be guilty of a variation of the Grandfather paradox.
The core of the story is a rescue mission into the Land of the Fae, where prior action left a wounded ally and intended bride of one of the company. There are additional storylines about connections to King Arthur, and the confrontations that take place with the enemies. Essential questions for Nate about his parentage are asked, and mostly answered, and there is plenty of Deus, without ANY Machina.
Sufficient plot elements are resolved to make this NOT a cliff-hanger, although there are significant threads left for the next books in the series.
Commentary. There is plenty of fighting, explosions, and warfare to be had here, which I find to be very gratifying. There is also a bodacious portion of snarky dialogue, which fits in very well with the personalities of the characters. It's ALMOST appropriate material for middle school boys, a comment I make in light of raising one now, with some previous parenting experience under my belt. Let me put it this way: I wouldn't give the book to Kenneth, my 13 year old. However, if I discovered he had found it on his own, and read it, I wouldn't be disturbed. Any bedroom action takes place behind a closed door, between bonded pairs, and I just don't recall any language issues, although the MC is referred to as 'foul-mouthed' in one of the blurbs about the book.
Another unexpected aspect to the book for me (aside from the slapstick humor elements) is the attention paid to the emotional well-being of the characters. All of us who live into maturity have had plenty of opportunities to see relationships go south because of unintended consequences of words and actions; why should supernatural characters be exempt? Most of us have had the benefit of having our earliest conflicts supervised by parents and grandparents, who offer sage advice about the consequences of our words; while that might not have been the good fortune of Nate, he does have the opportunity to have sudden appearances of rabid-reindeer-tending archetypes drop in and visit him in his private chambers, cryptically encouraging him to play well with others. In all seriousness, I found this aspect of relationship maintenance to be very well done.
There are only two more entries in the 'Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)' category, and I doubt very seriously that one of them is going to be reviewed, due to the length and so-far unavailability of the book. Has the fat lady sung yet?
Peace be on your household.