Book Review: A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart

Hey there…

These days I’m always on the hunt for good urban fantasy. The gold standard for urban fantasy for me is The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Magic and sarcasm make a heady mix for Harry Dresden, wizard-for-hire, and it’s a tough combination to beat.

That doesn’t stop me from looking however. And a few months ago I saw a review of K.A. Stewart’s A Devil in the Details on the Fantasy Book Critic blog. I immediately ordered a copy and threw it into my “read when I get a chance” pile.

Thankfully I had a chance to read it a couple of weeks ago and it was both a quick read and a lot of fun. Jesse James Dawson has an interesting worldview and a unique set of skills that come in handy when you act as a proxy in a deal with a demon. Demons don’t look too kindly on breaking contracts it seems and it tends to get messy. That’s when Dawson’s katana comes out to play…

Dawson is a member of a loose network of Champions around the globe focused on helping people get out of their contracts with demons. And he won’t just take on anybody. If you’ve made a deal with a demon, you knew what you were doing even if you didn’t think through all the consequences. You really have to have reformed in some serious ways if you expect Dawson to take your case. Yes, he gets paid well by the people he helps, but that’s just so that his wife and daughter are taken care of in the event that he dies on the job. He knows eventually his luck will run out and his family must be safe and secure in his absence.

What is this job exactly? He intercedes on behalf of people who have sold their souls to a demon for something. It can be something as giving as asking for a cure for your dying child or as selfish as wanting a few more years in the limelight before you fade away for good. In this story, it’s a famous old baseball pitcher who approaches Dawson to help him out. He wasn’t getting any playing time as younger players were pitching better than he was and he wanted to go out on top… Well, he paid for the sudden turnaround with his soul. And now he wants out of the deal.

Once Dawson is involved, he discovers that other things are afoot and that some of his fellow Champions have gone missing. Is it all related? Can he keep his family safe and still fulfill his obligations to the pitcher? You’ll have to read it and find out, but A Devil in the Details sets the groundwork for a great new realm in urban fantasy I look forward to exploring further.

Though this is the first book in a series and Stewart’s debut, it really doesn’t feel like one. Her writing style was fluid enough that Dawson’s quests never felt forced or rushed. When a character was introduced, it was there for a reason and that reason was resolved by the end. And though all the loose ends were neatly tied up, this story left me wanting to know more about Dawson and his network of Champions in the next book.

Be sure to check out A Devil in the Details from K.A. Stewart at your favorite bookseller and check out her blog at Literary Intent.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the book from Barnes & Noble below:

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Book Review: Changes by Jim Butcher

Hi all!

Harry Dresden is one of my heroes. I’ve been reading about Jim Butcher‘s modern wizard since I found the first book Storm Front in the early 2000s. It’s a perfect mix of urban fantasy, adventure, and sarcasm. Yes, I said sarcasm. He’s willing to provide a wisecrack to the most powerful beings on the planet or the guy next door. I value that devil-may-care attitude.

This isn’t your traditional wizard. For one, he lives in modern day Chicago and works as a private investigator. Well, he used to when he had more time. Lately he’s been helping out in a war between the White Council of wizards and the Red Court of vampires that he might have started…

Ok, maybe I should start at the beginning. Harry Dresden is a wizard in every sense of the word. He casts spells, speaks with spirits and other supernatural beings, crosses into the realm of faerie, and hunts for monsters who seek to hurt innocent (and sometimes not-so innocent) people. He lives and works as a special private eye in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, Illinois. I say special, because it’s not often you see ads for a “Wizard for Hire” in the yellow pages.

Author Jim Butcher published the first novel of the “Dresden Files” – Storm Front – back in 2000. Since then he’s published eleven more novels set in the Dresden universe, all focused on his wizard/detective. Each has put Dresden and his friends in harms way more times than I can count and not everyone has come out unscathed or alive. Sometimes the things making noise in the darkness are out to get you and won’t stop until they succeed…

Harry Dresden has changed over time. He’s not quite the same hot-headed young wizard he was when he started. By the time Changes starts, he’s taken on an apprentice – Molly Carpenter, the daughter of his good friend Michael Carpenter who is a retired Knight of the Cross – and becoming a teacher has mellowed him out greatly.

Beyond that… Harry has a dog – Mouse, a Tibetan Mastiff who protects Harry as much as anyone can – and a cat – Mister, a large gray tomcat who (like most cats) has a serious attitude. Harry has a magical skull that contains the spirit of a former powerful wizard – “Bob” – who has a soft spot for romance novels. And Harry has a lot of good friends, among them Karrin Murphy, a police detective in the Chicago Police’s “Special Investigations” unit. SI handles the weird cases nobody wants to deal with but everyone wants dealt with quickly and quietly. Inevitably Harry gets involved somehow.

When Changes starts, Harry gets a phone call that literally changes his life. He’s told by his former girlfriend, Susan Rodriguez (one-time lover and reporter, now half-vampire), that he has a child and the child is in danger. In true Dresden form, Harry kind of goes off the deep end to save his daughter from the Red Court of vampires who would really like to see him dead.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone. It, like all Dresden novels, was one heck of a page turner. I devoured this book in about 8 hours spread out across two days and that’s fast even for me.

However… I will mention two things in case you’re a Dresden fan and haven’t picked this up yet. First of all, you get to meet Odin from Norse mythology. Suffice it to say that the scene in which that happens is one of my favorite of the entire book and made me think back to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I will now have to re-read. Second, you get to hear Mouse talk. Yes, it makes sense in the context of the story and made me laugh out loud.

If you like urban fantasy (fantasy fiction set in the modern world) and haven’t read any of the Dresden books, I would encourage you to start at Storm Front and work your way up to Changes. If you are already a Dresden fan, I would encourage you to read Changes if you haven’t already done so. This book was a blast and somehow Butcher continues to turn out amazing, entertaining stories in Dresden’s world. Next up will be Butcher’s Side Jobs short story and novella collection combining numerous Dresden short stories in one place, including a follow-up to Changes. Look for that to arrive in late October 2010!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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