Friday, December 24, 2010

The Underworld Cycle: Book one- Mob Rules by Cameron Haley

Domino Riley is the Chief Enforcer for the Rashan Mob, one of the many criminal groups that run L.A. Unlike in the real world, the mobs that rule this L.A. run on magical power, and the businesses they run confer not just money or drugs, but actual magical juice to the mobs that control that territory. Unfortunately for Domino, one of her mob's men, a tagger named Jamal James, has been killed in his apartment, and skinned, then hung on a bondage rack and left there.

Domino is summoned to the scene by another one of her gang, Anton Shevakov, the same guy who found the body. And while Domino knows that Anton had nothing to do with the death, the death worries her, because Jamal was a really excellent tagger. His tags could actually increase the flow of juice, or magical power, that the gang received from the streets. She wonders if another gang tried to take him out when Jamal turned down an offer to work for them, or just simply took him down as a preparation for some kind of gang war. But the fact that Jamal is missing his skin, and almost all of his magical power, is also rather disturbing. Jamal's been sucked dry like an empty juice bag, and there are very few things that could do that.

Not that Domino knows what those things are herself. But she has a Djinn trapped in a black and white TV in her home that may be able to tell her. Or she could just try and summon Jamal's spirit to tell her himself. But something is interfering with her connection to Jamal's spirit, and she can only get a few words out of him before his spirit vanishes. Domino thinks something with the way Jamal was killed is causing the interference, and nothing, not the genie she has imprisoned inside the television in her apartment nor all the spells she can muster up, seem to be able to get through the interference.

So, who killed Jamal and why? Jamal was a skilled tagger, able to create tags that sucked up lots of magical energy from the areas that her mob controls. And apparently, there were other mobs sniffing around, eager to get Jamal to work for them. But as far as she knows, Jamal was happy with her group and refused any and all such offers. But could that be a reason for someone to kill him, to deny his ability to Domino's mob? With not much else to go on, Domino investigates Papa Danwe's voodoo mob, who had been sniffing around Jamal.

But distracting her at this rather inconvenient time is Adan, one of her boss Rashan's sons. Domino has long thought Adan was hotter than the surface of the sun, but now he finally seems to be paying attention to her, when he isn't hanging out with vampires and other assorted lowlifes. He can't be part of his father's organization, because he has no magic whatsoever, but that doesn't stop him from being smoking hot, and Domino is quite attracted to him. But soon she suspects that he's been possessed, and that whatever is inside him is what killed Jamal. She wants to throw out the interloper and keep her lover, but that may not be possible. Another of her crew has also been killed in the same way as Jamal. a man by the name of Jimmy Lee, and Papa Danwe's crew has built some sort of magic cannon that just might be aimed at Rashan's outfit.

Add into the mix trips into otherworld to try and find out what is happening to Adan and to try and free him of whatever is possessing him, as well as a female fairy that seems determined to get into Domino's pants, and a magical gun that can kill whatever it hits, and Domino's day is shaping up to be very bad indeed. Can she survive the threats against her organization and save the man she is coming to love, or will the entirety of L.A. go up in flames before she can even find some time to be with Adan?

I don't usually find criminals all that interesting, but Domino caught me in her fist and drew me from the very first page. She's a pretty kickass magical girl, but nothing comes easy for her, and she also has a defined role in her organization. She's a troubleshooter, and given the magical nature of the gangs of L.A., the kind of trouble she shoots is all too apt to be the kind that shoots back at her.

This is the normal world, dragged ninety degrees off kilter from our own. Gangs exist, but they run on magic and magical power rather than guns, drugs and prostitution. Of course, many of the same activities gangs run in our world provide magical "juice" in Domino's world. Prostitution and gambling seem to be the primary illlegal generators of magical power, but more also comes from the feelings and emotions of people. The more juice that is generated in the streets, the more tense and unsettled things become on the streets, like magical feedback that ramps the whole thing higher and higher. Too much juice and there will be rioting in the streets, even by normal people.

And in addition to the real world, there is at least two more, one of which Domino visits during the course of the story. The end of the book sets up the situation for additional stories, and I honestly hope that things turn out better for Domino in future books than they did in this one. This book is an introduction to a strange new world, both slightly and very different from our own, but I can only hope that more books come out in this series, as I found it intriguing and fun to read. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Demon's Parchment by Jeri Westerson

Crispin Guest used to be a knight, until he was accused of treason for backing the wrong man to become King of England. Stripped of his lands and titles (and therefore his money) as well as his knighthood, he survives the hard streets of London by selling his services as a finder and Detective, becoming well-known as "The Hunter". But even as he struggles to keep body and soul together, he must keep out of reach of the King, who still bears Crispin a grudge and wants nothing more than to see him killed or banished from England permanently.

Now, it is winter, and life is doubly hard. Bur Crispin's aid is sought by a physician of the court. Some papers have been stolen from him, papers it is imperative that he must regain, even if he refuses to tell Crispin the nature of the papers or even how many there are. All he can tell Crispin is that the Papers are in Hebrew, and that it is absolutely imperative that he must get them back.

But that's not the only problem Crispin is confronted with. There have been deaths in the city, the deaths of young men, barely more than children. At the scene of the crime, a massive figure with a suspiciously tiny head has been seen, and in his wake, the bodies are found, along with small bits of clay. Crispin is retained by the Sheriffs of London to find the culprit behind these murders, thus obviating the need for the men to bestir themselves and look into something that personally frightens them very, very much.

Along with this, Crispin finds himself running into an old rival in love who apparently hadn't realized the depths to which Crispin has sunk in his time away from Court. Though he now holds Crispin's old estate as part of his own, he does his best to try and help his former rival in matters of the Court, helping him evade the men who would arrest him for merely entering the Royal Court, and proving himself something of a friend now that he and Crispin can no longer compete for the same things.

But in the matter of the Jewish Doctor's papers, Crispin is opposed by the man's son, Julian, who also happens to be his apprentice as a Doctor. Between the two of them, he discovers that the missing papers are copies of the words God spoke to bring the world into being, Words of Creation. But Crispin suspects that the Doctor's son, Julian, knows more about the crime than he is telling, and learns of how the words were used long ago, to construct a man of clay who was supposed to protect the Jews, but who fell in love with the daughter of the Rabbi who constructed him, ensuring a tragedy when the Rabbi wouldn't let his daughter marry the construct.

Could something similar be happening in London? Is there a golem going around murdering young men? And why is Crispin finding himself suddenly attracted to Julian? Could everything he ever thought or believed about himself be a lie? And who is collecting the clay to make another Golem, and does the Jewish community hiding in London know anything about it?

Wow, this book pulled me in a number of different directions while I was reading. I twigged to the "Golem" part of the story right away. As soon as they went into the Jewish Doctor whose important papers were stolen, yet he doesn't want to speak about what the papers are or why they are so important, my first thought was... "I bet this turns out to have something to do with the Golem, which was brought to life by putting papers with God's words on them into his mouth." And lo and behold, that's exactly what the papers were. I didn't really think of it as a surprise, but it was nice to see Jewish legend coming into the story.

And it was a further nice thing to see the main character, Crispin, actually questioning his sexuality when he falls for the Doctor's son. Instead of treating it as (Scream) "Ooh, icky cooties!", I found the whole thing handled in a mature fashion. Yes, Crispin feels rather repulsed by the feelings he has, but he doesn't spend his time flailing his arms and screaming about it. Instead, he approaches it in a fairly mature fashion, by discussing it with a bisexual transvestite he knows and is friendly with. (I don't know if you can really call them friends, but they are fairly friendly.)

But in the end, the story remains true to its noir roots in many ways. I am getting to the point where I am getting suspicious of any of Crispin's old friends who show up, because they seem to inevitably want to screw him over at some point, which happens to be a very noir trope. Seeing it here in a medieval mystery is refreshing, even if it feels like poor Crispin can't ever cut a break or find someone truly loyal to him except his servant/apprentice and some of the common people.

I found this book very enjoyable to read, with all the different threads that went into making it up, and some things I never would have expected to see in any mystery story. The combination of medieval and noir continues to interest and excite me when it comes to the stories. Ms. Westerson has developed a new genre of novels, one I never would have thought of myself, and I continue to look out for them because I know I will be assured a good story that's both interesting and amazing to read. Highly recommended.