Shelf Reflections

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

“The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.”

Lizzie Borden mixed with Cthulu mythos. All righty then. I’ve been reading Cherie Priest’s books since she first started publishing, and I thought that this might be a bit weird even for her. I’m happy to say that it works just fine—surprisingly well, actually. I know almost nothing about Lovecraft’s Cthulu stories, so maybe that worked in my favor, but I honestly think that Priest is just that good of a writer.

The Borden murders are one of the great unsolved mysteries in America: two people found brutally killed with multiple axe blows; a suspect with a changing story; and no clear evidence as to what happened. Admittedly, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about the case, my basic knowledge consisting of the children’s rhyme quoted above. There are enough details about Lizzie’s life contained in this novel to make me go hunting around to see if they were accurate. And for the most part, they are. (Obviously, Lizzie’s dad and stepmom weren’t possessed by evil beings, but that should be apparent.)

Priest’s narrative takes the facts that are known and weaves them seamlessly with her horror story. She explains why Lizzie killed her parents, why she and her sister stayed in the same town after her trial, what caused she and her sister to fall out, and what Lizzie’s relationship was with a prominent actress of the time. There’s no point at which I felt the author’s imaginings interfered with actual facts, and it made the read that much more fascinating.

In reading this book, I was put in mind of Orson Scott Card’s distinctions between dread, terror and horror. Dread is the anticipation of fear, terror is what you feel in the moment, and horror is the aftermath. Much of this novel takes place in the realm of dread—monsters are rarely seen, but their influence is keenly felt as innocent people fall prey to them. There are moments of terror as creatures attack and mythical monsters sing their siren call. There’s very little horror aside from snippets when Lizzie sees the consequences of the supernatural events plaguing her town.

Although the mash-up seems crazy, the end result is a dark historical fantasy that draws you into it as surely as if one of Priest’s monsters had its hooks into your soul. Maplecroft is an incredibly unique and creative novel that brings the thrills from both fact and fiction.

This review was originally posted on September 8, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Night Owls by Lauren M. Roy

“Valerie McTeague’s business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away as possible from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren. She’s experienced that life, and the price she paid was far too high for her to ever want to return.

Elly Garrett hasn’t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side—until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on.

When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safekeeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors.”

Okay, any book that takes place in a bookstore has my attention.  Boy, I wish there had been a store like this when I was in college—I’d have definitely worked there!  The setting is guaranteed to appeal to all book-geeks like me.  Night Owl Books is open extremely late, carries all kinds of cool books, and even has a rare book room.  Plus, it’s run by a friendly vampire.  What’s not to like?

There are some fairly typical fantasy elements at play here: super-secret organizations that fight monsters; books that hold magical secrets in strange languages; kindly professors with esoteric interests; and so on.  I’m not saying that these things make the book trite or boring, but you’re sure to see some familiar tropes here that are combined in a way that’s fun to read.

I would have liked some more background on the Jackals (or Creeps, as Elly calls them).  Most of the other creatures are common enough not to need explanation, like vampires or succubi, but Creeps are something new.  I’m certainly willing to grant an author the right to make up their own things that go bump in the night, but I do want them to have some reason for existing.

Something that amused me was a running reference to Sacramento.  Apparently, Val was part of a hunting group in Sacramento where something went horribly wrong, and the details are dangled in front of us for most of the book.  We do eventually get the gist of the tale, thus saving it from becoming like the Calvin and Hobbes “noodle incident”, and it both explains why the story takes place back East and also seems to sow the seeds of maybe heading out West in a future novel.

Night Owls was a decent read with some unique monsters and a good dollop of action.  I’ll be curious to see what the author does with this story next, and very curious to see if her characters head out our way.

This review was originally posted on April 7, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

“All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town. When they excavate the mansion’s outhouse they find way more than they bargained for: a sealed bottle filled with a red liquid, along with the bizarre skeleton of a horned child

Disturbing the skeleton throws each of their lives into a living hell. They feel followed wherever they go, their homes are ransacked by unknown intruders, and people they care about are brutally, horribly dismembered. The three friends awakened something, a creature that will stop at nothing to retrieve its child.”

This is one of those books that’s hard to write about, not because of anything outstandingly good or horribly bad, but because it’s so mundane.  It’s the sheer lack of anything that stands out that defines how I feel about this book.  A bunch of kids (and yes, even though they’re in college, they’re still kids) go to a haunted house, disturb something creepy, do research to find out about it, and eventually stop it in the nick of time.  There’s the Smart Girl, the Strong Guy, the Strong Guy’s Boyfriend, the Professor, and the Stoner.  There’s even a dog, belonging to the Smart Girl.  It sounds like the makings of a Scooby Gang of one kind or another.  And for me, really, the characters never progressed much beyond these stereotypes.

And yet, I can’t say that this was a bad book.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, aside from a huge lack of originality.  The story was tight (it’s only novella length); the characters didn’t do anything, well, out of character; and the circumstances of the haunting didn’t contradict themselves.  Looked at purely from a technical perspective, the story is okay.  But this view doesn’t take into account the many questions that I was left with at the end–questions like “How did the horned child’s skeleton stay intact through all the handling?” and “What triggered the entity to go out killing?” (because despite what the story wants you to believe, the mention of killings over the course of decades negates the idea that the skeleton’s exhumation was the key) and “Why did nothing bad happen to anyone close to Maggie since she’s the one carting the skeleton around in her car trunk?”

Something else confused me.  At the end, it seems like Ford is gearing up for one final revelation when Maggie calls everyone together one more time.  Is she actually dead?  Has she uncovered one last piece of evidence?  What is it?  It turns out to be… nothing.  She just wants them to come out and see something she found on an archaeological dig.  It felt like Ford was heading towards one last big explosion of activity, and then he got bored and just ended the story.  I actually wondered if my advance copy was missing some pages.  That’s not a good sign.

So, long story short, the book leaves dangling plot threads, has one-dimensional characters, and serves up nothing new under either heaven or earth.  As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with this book, but there’s not really anything right with it either.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout

“When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.

When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.

Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch’s storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian’s sword, an object of untold power.

For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There’s Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.”

This story takes place in an alternate version of California, one where mythic creatures once roamed and lost their lives in the La Brea tar pits. Along with these beasts comes a unique power: the ability to distill and ingest the magic in their bones. This power, osteomancy, lies at the heart of this novel. It hearkens to shamanistic rituals, and I have to admit that the setting seemed to have more than a touch of the untamed mixed with the modern. One thing that remains the same, though, is the struggle over power, not just magical power, but the kind brought by money and control of resources. As in our world, water is a huge issue; unique to this fictional world, control of bones and their magic plays just a big a part.

The heist portions of the book are a fun read. The author uses this part of the plot to highlight some of the magic he’s created. He does so by featuring magical traps, people who are strong in certain kinds of magic that get in the way of our thieves, and the black market for products made from bones of mythic animals. It’s also fun to read about the thieves themselves—each has some ability that is unique to them. The most interesting of those is Moth, who was accidentally given the power to heal from any wound, even one that causes death.

Van Eekhout leaves lots of intriguing hints about this California’s political and historical past, and it’s a story that I hope is explored in a future volume. There’s certainly room for at least one more book, and I hope it gets written. Some of this history seems like a sly poke at current California politics, with the split between Northern and Southern California and the haggling over water. As a native Californian, that gave me a snicker.

Clocking in at only 300 pages, this is a slim and trim story that doesn’t have any padding. I enjoyed how the author didn’t waste the reader’s time with too much “flavor text” or excess action that doesn’t serve the plot. The novel marches forward and packs a ton of story into the room it has. Too many authors would have expanded the book to the point of losing reader interest, but this isn’t the case with California Bones.

I sure hope Van Eekhout continues with this story. I like Daniel and his team, and I really want to know more about the world, especially what’s up with Northern California (hey, that’s where I live, I can’t help but want to see that). California Bones is a rare beast, one that cooks up a truly unique form of magic and serves it up for your enjoyment.

This review was originally posted on July 14, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

“When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn’t expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.

Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone…

The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.

Of course, so do the talking mice.”

ALL HAIL THE AUTHORIAL PRIESTESS!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  I do so love me those Aeslin mice.  And it’s the mice that really represent what I love about this series and about McGuire’s writing in general: quirky and original and not something you’re going to find in just any old book.  The author most definitely has her own voice and style and she’s not afraid to use it.

This book departs a bit from the previous two in that it doesn’t focus on Verity, moving instead to her brother Alex.  While I’ll miss all the ballroom dancing references, I found myself warming up to Alex and his work at a zoo’s reptile house.  His specialization is non-sentient cryptids like basilisks, so his story is less about diplomatic situations and more about being a caretaker to the hidden species of our world.  Or at least, it starts that way.

Just because he works with reptiles doesn’t mean that those species can’t talk back.  The gorgons are a large presence in this book, and there’s even one working with Alex at the zoo.  I continue to like how McGuire delves into mythology for her creatures, and yet she puts her own touches to the different non-human characters and how they live and interact with humans and each other.

Readers even get glimpses of an organization out of Australia that is sort of like the Healy-Price clan, one that might be good allies with Alex and his family down the road.  There’s little to no Covenant presence in this book, but I’m kind of glad, because that might have muddied the waters with too many rival organizations.  Getting a look at the wider world of those who know about the cryptids is something that I was hoping for and was very happy to see.

As usual, I absolutely adored McGuire’s storytelling and humor.  And of course, the Aeslin mice.  Half-Off Ragnarok is one of the most enjoyable novels debuting this month and I’ll continue preaching the gospel of cheese and cake to anyone who will listen.

This review was originally published on March 19, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire

“As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast.

Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.

But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse.

Antimony Price is about to learn just how wrong it’s possible for one cryptozoologist to be.”

This is my least favorite of the Incryptid books so far.  Now, that’s not saying anything too bad, because I did still like this book and enjoy it.  It is not, however, one that I found completely un-put-downable.  My standards have gotten pretty high when I see that Seanan McGuire has authored a book, so maybe I’m being too picky, but again, I expect a lot from one of her books.

One of the things I like the most about McGuire’s prose is her ability to create memorable characters.  In this series, the main characters have consistently been not only well-fleshed out in their own right, but they’ve also been meticulously fitted to the family they come from.  Let me give you an example: Verity, star of the first book, is encountered mostly on her own in New York, but her status as a member of the Price family is solid.  She may not live with them—or even near them—but she’s in close enough communication with them and references them enough that you get the sense of a cohesive group.  The same goes for Alex, who takes the stage in book three.  His love of herpetology fits with the main plot but also hearkens back to his family’s love of (and protection of) cryptids.

Antimony just didn’t live up to that standard, in my opinion.  Being in an “undercover” role, she has almost no communication with her family beyond a couple of contacts with one of the family’s ghosts.  Her memories are mostly focused on her time spent with the Campbell family carnival, during which time she was away from the rest of the Price clan.  Maybe this wouldn’t have stood out to me so much if this story had been written earlier in the series, but after five previous novels with strong family connections, I felt that the lack was noticeable.

I also had a bit of an issue with Antimony’s self-identifying as a “derby girl”—she’s into roller derby in a big way.  Although we do see a short scene of her at a derby practice at the start of the story, her actual participation in a derby never comes up again.  We see her doing all kinds of acrobatics, but no skating.  This is in stark contrast to Verity’s ballroom dancing, which is always significantly present, or Alex’s love of all things reptilian.  Again, in many ways this departure from previous form is dictated by the plot, but it wasn’t something I was as fond of.

Beyond that, as an entry into this series, I liked it well enough.  The pacing is good, the setting is unique, and the rest of the cast gets just enough fleshing out to work well with the main character.  We get to encounter a few more kinds of cryptids and have some encounters with the Covenant of St. George up close and personal.  And as usual, the Aeslin mice are adorable.

The Price family tale gets more and more complicated as the novels unfold, and I’m eager to see where things go in the next book, Tricks for Free.  Honestly, your mileage may vary on the character issues that I grumbled about, but I doubt you’ll take issue with the plot or storytelling.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

“Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.

This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.

Unless she stops it…”

As much as I liked the previous book, Maplecroft, I have to say that I liked this one better.  It’s just as dark and atmospheric, but this one takes place deep in the earth as opposed to out in the wide open ocean.  Yes, Cthulu is still very much a presence here, but it seems weirdly more sinister for its corruption of a church.  And I liked seeing Lizzie as an older woman, no longer in her prime but still willing to wade into danger to save others.

There are some wonderfully creepy touches to this tale.  My favorite is storeroom six, a room where things inside of it slowly fade away.  Priest’s descriptions of this place are incredibly evocative–you can almost smell the must and dust, feel the strangeness of things gradually being forgotten.  I think what makes this image so powerful is that everyone has something like that in their house, even if it’s only a small junk drawer.  It’s that place for things that have no place, and if you go digging through it, you find the oddest things.

I also liked that Lizzie isn’t shoehorned into this story too much.  Yes, she’s there and she makes a difference, but the story ultimately belongs to others.  It feels like this novel is a natural outgrowth of the first one.  Decades have passed, and Lizzie’s time in the spotlight is over.  But that doesn’t mean that she’s obsolete, because she definitely has a few tricks left up her sleeve.

This is a story strong on atmosphere and a palpable sensation of dread.  With Halloween coming up, what better choice of reading material than something based on Lovecraft’s supreme being of horror?  Just make sure to leave a light on while reading Chapelwood, or you may find yourself jumping at shadows later.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Wish Bound by J. C. Nelson

wish-bound“Even when she’s not starting it, trouble follows Marissa everywhere. First there was the incident with the homicidal Fairy Godmother. Then there was the time she accidentally started Armageddon. But the problems that always seem to arise on Marissa’s birthday take the cake.

This year, her annual bad-luck presents include an army of invading goblins, the resurrection of two vengeful enemies from hell, and the return of the Black Queen, the evil sorceress whose reign of terror still haunts Kingdom and who happens to have claimed Marissa as her servant.

As Marissa’s friends try to save her from the Black Queen’s clutches, Marissa fights to end a bitter war that started before her birth. But her quest for peace is about to bring up some inconvenient truths about her own past—ones that might cost her the happily ever after she’s always dreamed of…”

If I didn’t know that this series was going to continue, I’d be convinced that this was the end of the story.  Nelson does an awesome job of wrapping up the major conflicts that began in the first two novels, but she leaves plenty of room to keep going.  I personally expected the plot involving the Black Queen to be of much longer duration, but having it resolved at this point was quite satisfying.  The author delivers solid plotting and has a good grasp on what she can draw out and what she’s better off dealing with without too much waffling around.

It’s also nice to see Nelson pulling in characters from the first two books to be part of the events in this one.  It’s something that is common to see as a series concludes, but I liked seeing here when the author is simply bringing a particular plotline to fruition.  And also, it’s nice that there haven’t been so many characters introduced that bringing them together turns into the text equivalent of a Ben-Hur style crowd scene.  You actually know who everyone is and can easily remember their place in the overall narrative.

The thing that I like best about this series is the humor.  While there’s nothing in this story to top the previous book’s invasion of demonic poodles that get cuter the more people they kill, there are plenty of lines that will get a giggle from readers.  The humor is along the lines of Jim Butcher or Kevin Hearne–funny, but not over the top.  And I’m fully aware of the irony of saying that with regards to a series with demonic poodles.

Grimm Agency has rapidly turned into one of my favorite urban fantasy series, and Wish Bound is a solid addition to the story, bringing some aspects of the plot to conclusion and leaving the door open for more adventures to come.  I highly recommend you pick up Nelson’s books.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

“Alexander Price has survived gorgons, basilisks, and his own family—no small feat, considering that his family includes two telepaths, a reanimated corpse, and a colony of talking, pantheistic mice.  Still, he’s starting to feel like he’s got the hang of things…at least until his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, shows up asking pointed questions about werewolves and the state of his passport.  From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Australia, a continent filled with new challenges, new dangers, and yes, rival cryptozoologists who don’t like their “visiting expert” very much.

Australia is a cryptozoologist’s dream, filled with unique species and unique challenges.  Unfortunately, it’s also filled with Shelby’s family, who aren’t delighted by the length of her stay in America.  And then there are the werewolves to consider: infected killing machines who would like nothing more than to claim the continent as their own. The continent which currently includes Alex.

Survival is hard enough when you’re on familiar ground.  Alex Price is very far from home, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: he’s not going down without a fight.”

I’ve decided that not only is McGuire’s Incryptid series my favorite of all the things she writes, but it’s also one of my favorites series, period.  There’s a wonderful blend of creativity, humor, and wit that keeps me eagerly anticipating each new book as it comes out.

And this one is the best of the series so far.  The author continually changes things up so the books never become cookie-cutter.  This is the first book to take place in a location other than America, and this means that the main character is not in very close contact with the rest of the family.  It also means all new kinds of cryptids to marvel at.  It gives Alex that “fish out of water” status that allows him to be intrigued with the new, but his already established competence with cryptids means that he doesn’t come across as too over-matched.

I find it interesting that McGuire also chose werewolves as the main antagonistic force in Australia, because it’s not like there aren’t enough things in Australia that want to kill you.  I think that by using werewolves, she has rooted readers in something familiar while also painting them very differently than you “typical” werewolves.  That’s what I like most about the cryptids that are more commonly known–they’re not what you expect, but they’re recognizable enough to make that connection.

Of course, it’s the cryptids that McGuire creates herself that are the most awesome.  I speak, as usual, of the Aeslin mice, towards which I feel a squeeful love and a desire to cuddle them.  The lesser gryphons (like the Church Gryphon and Australia’s garrinna) also awaken in me a deep longing for a plushie of one of them.  Basically, the author regularly makes me say “aaawwwww”, and some days that’s just what I need.

In general, McGuire’s writing style is one that I truly enjoy.  She has a Pratchett-esque way of stating things that make you both laugh and think “Hey, that’s a good point”.  I’m constantly making note of lines that I want to share with others.  Pair that with a great, action-packed story, and you’ve got an unbeatable combination, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m already jonseing for the next Incryptid book and my fix of giggle-worthy dialogue.  I’m constantly recommending this series to others, so that should give you a good idea of how highly I regard it.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Emergence by John Birmingham

emergence“Dave Hooper has a hangover from hell, a horrible ex-wife, and the fangs of the IRS deep in his side. The last thing he needs is an explosion at work. A real explosion. On his off-shore oil rig.

But this is no accident, and despite the news reports, Dave knows that terrorists aren’t to blame. He knows because he killed one of the things responsible.

When he wakes up in a hospital bed guarded by Navy SEALs, he realizes this is more than just a bad acid trip. Yeah, Dave’s had a few. This trip is way weirder.

Killing a seven-foot-tall, tattooed demon has transformed the overweight, balding safety manager into something else entirely. A foul-mouthed, beer-loving monster slayer, and humanity’s least worthy Champion.”

If I didn’t know for a fact that Birmingham has written other books, I would swear that this novel was the work of a first-time author with a penchant for fanfic.  The story wasn’t bad, but the writing mistakes were plentiful and widely varied.

First of all, a writer should mostly stick with a single way of designating their characters.  Our main character here is Dave Hooper, and one would think that after introducing him, he would mostly be referred to by either his first or last time.  Instead, the author uses “Dave”, “Hooper”, “Dave Hooper”, “the oilman”, “the oilrigger”, and I think one or two others that I’m forgetting.  I can see varying it occasionally, but this goes on constantly, oftentimes on a single page.

The one time that Birmingham does stick to one name is with the demons, when it’s most annoying that he do so.  The first demon we encounter is Urgon Htoth ur Hunn, Battlemaster of the Fourth Legion.  I didn’t even have to look up this name, because it gets repeated, in its entirety, many times.

Something else that pulled me from the narrative was the author’s habit of interrupting the action for infodumps.  For example, when Dave first meets Urgon (I refuse to type that whole name out again), he grabs a splitting maul and swings it at the creature’s head.  In mid-swing, the story changes to Urgon’s point of view and spends several pages describing what it’s thinking while conveniently providing all kinds of information for the reader.  Oh, and that maul?  When Dave picks it up, there’s a long description of that, too.

Birmingham also appears to be fond of similes.  The most common way he describes things is to compare them to something else.  As a result, there’s a lot of sentences like “His voice was and rasped in his throat like gravel.”  (Page 36)  The tendency seems to increase as the book goes on, as well.

Lastly, I just don’t like Dave as a character or as a person.  He’s foul-mouthed, denies responsibility for things, insults people, and generally acts like a reprehensible human being.  His worst failing, to me anyway, is how he compartmentalizes the kinds of person that he has to be.  Instead of being truly repentant for things that he does, he pulls out a personality he calls Contrite Dave.  He calls the side of him that drinks, does drugs, and womanizes as Bad Dave.  It’s like those parts of him have only a passing relationship to the “real” Dave, and it grated on my nerves.

There were the glimmers of a decent story in all of this, and I think I might have liked this book better if it was actually the first half of another book.  Heck, the entire trilogy (books two and three upcoming) might end up working best as one long-ish novel.  But with all the padding, the writing gaffes, and the unlikeable main character, this book become something that I can’t recommend.  It disappointed me, because I was looking forward to this one and had my expectations shattered in the worst possible way.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)