The Left-Hand Way

Author: Tom Doyle

Series: American Craft #2

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

The Left-Hand Way is the second novel in American author Tom Doyle’s American Craft series and is pretty much a direct sequel to his debut novel American Craftsmen which I enjoyed immensely. I had been looking forward to the release of this novel and was not at all disappointed. Doyle continues his excellent writing craft and deft original touches which avoid the usual pitfalls of the genre. Keep an eye on Doyle and absolutely read this book.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy meets ancient magic, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance

Poe’s Red Death returns, more powerful than ever. Can anyone stop him before he summons an apocalyptic nightmare even worse than himself?

In this second book of Tom Doyle’s contemporary fantasy series, the American craftsmen are scattered like bait overseas. What starts as an ordinary liaison mission to London for Major Michael Endicott becomes a desperate chase across Europe, where Endicott is both hunted and hunter. Reluctantly joining him is his minder from MI13, Commander Grace Marlowe, one of Her Majesty’s most lethal magician soldiers, whose family has centuries of justified hostility to the Endicotts.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul and Tokyo, Endicott’s comrades, Scherie Rezvani and Dale Morton, are caught in their own battles for survival against hired assassins and a ghost-powered doomsday machine. And in Kiev, Roderick Morton, the spider at the center of a global web, plots their destruction and his ultimate apotheosis. After centuries of imprisonment, nothing less than godlike power will satisfy Roderick, whatever the dreadful cost.

The Speculative Post's Review

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So when we last left Dale Morton and Michael Endicott they’d basically been forced to cut off their collective nose to spite their face. In dealing with the dangers of what was happening at the Pentagon, they inadvertently created a much greater danger which is now the focus of this second installment of what I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say will be a trilogy. Doyle is still in absolutely fine form with what must be a Doyle craft of avoiding common writing pitfalls. He even manages to make what I’m confident is a middle book not actually feel like a middle book. The plot of The Left-Hand Way is a full and complete story with a great and very intense finale while still leaving the door open for an equally great third act.

One of the largest changes in this second book, which I heartily approve of, is the backing away from the military aspects of the first book. I enjoy a good military SF story as much as a good contemporary fantasy story, and I rightly praised Doyle for doing a great job interweaving them in my review of his first book. That said, I really feel that the main strength of Doyle’s writing is his characters, and their ability to emote and be biased and screw up. The military aspects of the first novel detracted from this a little bit. A military setting creates an enforced formality and discipline that, I now realise in retrospect, made me not appreciate his character development as much as I would have. I’m glad that he’s moved away from the military setting as it allows his other qualities to shine.

While there is a plot point to this novel that various things that happen might actually end up outing the existence of Craft to the rest of the world in general, the kinds of things that are described as no-nos seem like the kind of things that would have happened before or at least would crop up as a near-miss a lot more than they do. While I definitely believe their concerns that common knowledge of craft would result, in many places, in a return to the witch hunting days, there’s such profligate use of power throughout this novel that the idea that no curious eyes were drawn to it seems pretty absurd. When Chinese Craft weather controllers are trying to bring down an aircraft by throwing weather at it while Dale is on board countering their attacks with weather craft of his own, that stuff has to be showing up on satellite. I don’t think they get away from that with ‘it was a weather balloon.’ I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how much fallout came from the events here which, in all fairness, were really not a long span of time, but something needs to happen about how much of this was done where others could see it.

Overall, this really was a great book. Doyle’s characters have heart and soul and are believable and have a level of internal consistency you rarely see after only one or two books as a character. They grow and change in realistic ways and you feel like you both know them, and know that their actions match the person you know. The pacing and action are fantastic as well. The portrayal of combat magic feels real in a way very much like reading traditional combat written by authors who have direct experience with it, a fact I won’t read anything into. As a magic system, for being one largely based on the individual will of the practitioner, it still feels like there are logical rules underpinning it. I feel that I have a handle on what is or isn’t possible with it, which is vitally important for me to properly enjoy a system of magic. I’ve resisted as best I can constantly using ‘craft’ for the pun value, but this really is a well-crafted world and system, and I’m excited for the third installment, of which I know zero logistical details, but which looks like it will be pretty stellar.

Dan received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from the Author.

Resistance: Dave vs. The Monsters

Author: John Birmingham

Series: Dave Hooper #2

Subgenre: Urban Fantasy

Resistance: Dave vs. the Monsters is the second installment of a trilogy of novels by John Birmingham about the increasingly unlikeable and irritating super hero Dave Hooper. After the first book, I was hoping Dave would become a more nuanced and reasonable character as he maybe learned a little from his mistakes. Instead, we’ve now descended fully into the realm of ‘He’s not even an Anti-hero, he’s just an asshole.’ As much as it normally would bother me to stop reading a trilogy after two books, I’m done. He’s just too bad of a human being for me to take any interest at all in his goings on or welfare. Arrogant, misogynistic, selfish, greedy, and completely blind to his faults, the only way I could find this character redeemable is if Birmingham has intended the entire thing as satire. But the danger of satire which is indistinguishable from sincerity is that people will assume it is sincerity. A disappointment.

When you drop a monster-killer on the Strip, all bets are off.

Holed up in Las Vegas after the tumultuous Battle of New Orleans, Dave is enjoying the VIP perks afforded a champion monster-slayer. He may be a superhero of swag and the toast of the town, but if some fire-breathing dragons have their way, odds are everyone will soon be toast. As the hordes from the UnderRealms regroup for their next attack, Dave parties with celebrities, lunches with A-listers, and gets his ass lawyered up—because his hellacious ex is looking for a piece of that sweet, sweet action.

It’s all good, until new monsters roll in, looking to parley with “the Dave.”

WTF, monsters. Do you think the Dave can’t spot a trap before he falls into it? And when things go to hell at warp 10, a suit from a shadow operation swoops in to offer Dave a deal he can’t refuse. Now Dave’s about to face off against an opponent who makes battling bloodthirsty behemoths look like child’s play—a ravishing Russian spy with a few superpowers of her own.

The Speculative Post's Review

Setting

Characters

Plot

Writing Mechanics

Genre

Where to begin, where to begin. Well, my review of the first book in this series made some predictions about the next book which turn out to have been wrong. I had assumed based on the story that we would be getting into massive army battles by now, with Dave playing Hero and vaulting gaily around the battlefield leaving corpses in his wake. Instead far far too much of this book was spent on Dave fucking around, literally and figuratively, and a lot of travelling where not much happened. If you removed the parts of this novel where Dave is not wearing pants, you’d probably cut 50 pages out. Remove the parts where he’s making absolutely stupid decisions, and there’s even less left. For a book whose first installment was billed as action-packed and pulse-pounding, this book was nigh on boring.

Really all of my issues with this book boil down to the protagonist. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about an anti-hero, or even a non-hero. But most anti-heros either have some redeemable qualities, or they can at least acknowledge their own lack of anything positive. Probably the least likable character I’ve read in SFF in the last several years is Jorg Ancrath of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy. He murders, he rapes, he steals, he’s an absolutely horrible person and everybody should generally be rooting for his downfall. However, and the thing that makes him interesting to read about, is that he knows he is a horrible person, and just doesn’t care. He freely admits that he betrays and uses people for his own ends. He is just sufficiently sociopathic to not feel bad about doing so. It lets you look at him with a more clinical detached horror where you wonder what he’s going to do next, rather like a slow motion trainwreck.

Dave, however, doesn’t really seem to realise what a scumbag he really is. And it’s almost worse that his crimes aren’t murder, rape, and pillage, because it’s obvious to basically everybody that those things are bad and wrong. No, the problem is that he represents problems in our society that are still very wide-spread. He is excessive, hedonistic, arrogant, rude, crude; he cares far too much that other people think he is awesome to excuse his behavior behind sociopathy or psychopathy. He’s just an asshole. He mistreats women, his inner monologue is ableist, misogynistic, and homophobic. He does whatever he wants, even when people who’ve had years of training and experience tell him that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. His refusal to listen to reason gets multiple characters killed, and he basically doesn’t care about it at all. Once I’ve reached the point where I’ve decided the protagonist is just outright horrible, I’m pretty much done. It happened to Breaking Bad and it’s happened here. True world-class villains are great to read about, and a really gritty anti-hero with a heart of gold but some scratches and scuffs can be great, too. But if I want to read about a douchebag white American who treats women, gays, and the mentally ill like crap, doesn’t care about what is right or good, but only about what he wants in that moment, and thinks about nobody but himself, I’ll just pick up a newspaper.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who think this is a great book. What action there is definitely qualifies as action-packed and it is pretty intense here and there. The rest of the characters, struggling as they are to actually get this lummox to do a single thing right, have a lot going for them. Some of the details we get about the goings on in the UnderRealm are cool. Maybe some people can ignore the fact that the main character is an irredeemable arse, or maybe they think he’s right on in his thinking, as terrifying as that is to think about. But whether Birmingham thinks that Hooper is a brilliant piece of satire on the American Action Hero trope, or that Hooper is really a great heroic guy, sadly, I’m out.

Dan recieved an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Del Ray via NetGalley.



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