This is a well-written, entertaining book about magic in our present day world, with a well thought out, logical magic system and a recognition that being a witch doesn’t pay the bills. The pacing was great, with some variation, the descriptions had depth and supplemented the story and the characters were well thought through.
It is written in the first person present tense, which can be an acquired taste, particularly with the use of the present tense. That means that you get quotes like:
A few moments pass as Dean considers his options. Which are basically zero, so I’m not bothered. The fact that my skin has gone from tingling to crawling tells me he’s got a serious problem on his hands. A problem that I seriously doubt a psychic could deal with. Add to that, I can’t imagine one being dumb enough to try. Any true psychic would steer clear. So Dean has me or no-one…
I love the details included, the way that everyday, mundane life is used as a touchstone and counterpoint to the magical world and I love the reality of the language. It is an interesting, detailed, well imagined world with great plotting and lots of hints that don’t give the game away until the end. I can say that it is a good book to settle down with.
I have two issues. The first is that it ends on a cliffhanger, but not an irrational cliffhanger, so that is down to personal preference. It isn’t my preference, but it isn’t a bad end to the book. It is a logical, sensible, rational and consistent end to the book that leads well into the next of the series. If you don’t mind this sort of cliffhanger, then you will be fine.
The second issue is my completely irrational prejudice against first person present tense. It has it’s value as a method of story telling as it makes all the action very immediate and, if well written (and this is), it can make it very relatable. I think it is utterly awesome for short stories. My completely irrational dislike is that I feel that it can affect the flow of information so that you get more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ and that it can affect pacing. JS Malcom has done a wonderful job conveying the information necessary for the plot and the pacing works great. In fact, the way that the background is gently introduced during the story is wonderfully handled. I still have this completely ridiculous aversion to first person present tense.
If you are okay with a cliffhanger ending and a story in the first person present tense then I would be happy to recommend this book and to perhaps check out the sequel.
It was a sad place, and a sadness that Karen had come to know very well in the last few days. This garden had once been loved, as Miriam had once loved her garden. A small cottage seemed to be fading away behind the weeds, with broken windows and the front door missing. Bindweed and nightshade were writhing over the doorway and into the house. Karen didn’t recognise all the plants, but she could see the remains of raspberries, the dregs of some strawberries, an apple tree that was full of ripe apples, plum trees surrounded by rotten fruit and mint running wild up to the ivy filled, bushy hedge. “It seems such a sad place.” Karen said. “I try not to think of it.” Carl shook some carrier bags from his pocket. “Right, let’s do my Mum proud.” “How about things like the apples?” Karen asked as she shook out a well re-used carrier. “Sam’s having the apples, he should have said about the plums, but he normally has them as well.” Carl started picking the blackberries nearest the gate. “Come on, city girl! You start over there, I’ll pick towards you, let’s see who fills a bag first.” “Deal!” Karen said with a laugh and waded through a patch of raggedy grass to her starting point.
Blackberrying, Karen found, was very absorbing. There was always one more berry to find, one that bit out of reach, one more head of luscious, juicy berries nodding just a little way up… It was marvellous. With the sound of birds and the soft sun, Karen felt more relaxed than she could ever remember feeling.
Karen, don’t move, stay absolutely still.” Karen froze. There was an edge to Carl’s voice. There was no sound, not even the birds now. Then a rustle as Carl put down his bag. “Come out, show yourself. I know that you are there.” Carl sounded like, well, like a policeman or a seasoned soldier. There was a deep calm in his voice, an assurance and a steadiness around a core of steel. “Karen, I want you to slowly move behind me towards the gate.” “Don’t want to share?” A scrawny man slipped out of the cottage, wearing some dirty track suit bottoms and nothing else. “Come on, it’s lush round here, there’s plenty to go around.” “Have you introduced yourself to Tyr Armstrong yet?” Carl kicked off his shoes as Karen eased herself around him. “Or Lord Lothar? Not a good idea to upset them.” “Why should a wolf answer outside his own pack?” The thin man had ratty, shoulder length brown hair, but it seemed to Karen that it was growing longer. “We aren’t all puppies, like round here. Does the meat know what you are?” Karen felt sick. This was a werewolf as well, but not like Carl. This was a werewolf from the horror movies – the nasty ones that she hated watching on her own. She eased around a little further, to give Carl room. She had no idea what to do. Carl flexed his shoulders and worked his neck. “There are always rules, the rules of the territory. Tyr Armstrong rules the pack here, and his word goes. Better stick to the rules, stray, or you could regret it.” The skinny man was twitchy. “Yeah, well I have got to feed and I have got to feed now and I aren’t letting a puppy try and stop me.” Karen had reached the gate. She looked quickly up and down – she couldn’t see anything, but then, she had had no idea that there was this creature waiting for them. She looked back. Carl seemed to flow out of his clothes in an easy, controlled movement. He really was built like a barn, the strange werewolf must be crazy. He, too, was also flowing out of his clothes and into a wolf like shape. Again she glanced up and down the empty lane. How could she get help? Mobiles didn’t work and there wasn’t a soul around. She wasn’t even wearing a silver ring. Carl started his growl, low and menacing. Karen felt a shiver down her, this was so much more frightening than anything she had ever seen. Surely the strange werewolf would flee. As a wolf, Carl was huge, with thick, glossy fur over well-muscled flanks. His gleaming teeth were exposed in a chilling snarl but unlike a dog there was a cold intelligence in the eyes, and a steel framed determination. The strange werewolf was scrawny with matted fur, with his eyes flicking all around. Carl looked solid, perfectly ready to leap, but the strange werewolf paced regardless of the chilling growl. He barked at Carl’s growl, hesitated, looked about to leap, hesitated, looked as if he may flee and then the strange werewolf leapt. Karen was terrified. The two snarling wolves met in mid air and landed snapping and rolling. For a few moments Karen could only see a whirl of fur. The two werewolves tussled and struggled for advantage. Carl slammed into the strange werewolf, then leapt into his rib cage, knocking the breath out of him. The stranger crashed into the cottage doorway and the doorpost broke. Fragments of wood flew in the air, but the stranger just rolled back into the garden. He tried a snap at Carl’s belly that didn’t connect and a vicious swat from Carl threw him back into the brambles, with Carl snapping as he fell. But Carl’s snaps at the throat of the stranger didn’t quite meet as the stranger managed to wriggle away. Carl tried to follow but was caught in the brambles and the stranger was heading straight at Karen. Carl managed to pull himself away from the tangle of thorns, leaving a huge hank of fur behind as he threw himself at the back of the stranger with all his weight behind him. The stranger crashed into the gatepost and Karen backed into the road, terrified. Carl coiled himself and then sprang as the stranger tried to get away from the brambles and they both fell snarling and growling into the hedge. Karen looked around frantically and picked up a long piece of the fencing that seemed solid enough. She held it in front of her like a baseball bat as the two werewolves rolled out of the hedge and into the lane. Carl ripped into the stranger’s shoulder and spat out fur and blood. The stranger yelped, rolled away and paused, his eyes focused on Karen. There was a shot and the strange werewolf fell.