What is this about?: Laytham Ballard is a bad boy wizard, with the reputation that precedes him. But, when a former ally asks him to avenge his wife’s death at the hands of a mass murderer, Laytham steps up, despite the fact that he doesn’t actually owe the guy anything. For all this is a bloody ride to its conclusion and Laytham is an arse to the people who love him the most, there is no doubt that with him, loyalty and friendship matter.
What else is this about?: It’s the first in a series, so there’s a ton of background about Laytham, but in this case, it’s worked into the story organically and avoids all the traps that usually come with books like these.
Should you read: YES.
Blurb: The acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series set in today’s seedy occult underworld
In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in-between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It’s said he raised the dead at the age of ten, stole the Philosopher’s Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he’s also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.
Now a promise to a dying friend has Ballard on the trail of an escaped Serbian war criminal with friends in both high and low places—and a sinister history of blood sacrifices. Ballard is hell-bent on making Dusan Slorzack pay for his numerous atrocities, but Slorzack seems to have literally dropped off the face of the Earth, beyond the reach of his enemies, the Illuminati, and maybe even the Devil himself. To find Slorzack, Ballard must follow a winding, treacherous path that stretches from Wall Street and Washington, D.C. to backwoods hollows and truckstops, while risking what’s left of his very soul . . .
I was excited when I recced this book earlier this year, and ending up listening to this as an audiobook, read by Bronson Pinchot. First, I would listen to Bronson Pinchot read a phone book and be happy. For the longest time, Perfect Strangers has been a steadfast presence in my life when it comes to him, so when I first started listening I took awhile to get used to him using his gorgeous, amazing accent. I am so hooked.
But right, the book. Laytham is the mage everyone talks about, the one whose reputation precedes him and it’s enough to make people fear him even before he’s actually done anything. He’s that sort of protagonist and he loves that he is.
A promise to Baj, a dying friend, sends him on a path tracking Slorzack, a powerful wizard in his own right, and a war criminal. So begins a fun, if bloody path to finding Slorzack. Belcher’s wordbuilding is stellar, with a series of characters that are unique and compelling, despite them being around for however short a time.
Laytham is badass, and while he skirts the borders of being too badass, Belcher throws in a dash of angst, of the man he was before he became Laytham Ballard, the man everyone fears. We see a boy who couldn’t quite muster the patience to learn how to control his powers, and paid for it. We see a young who loved deeply and lost much and couldn’t recover from that loss. Moments like these, and others, draw a fuller picture of the man, beyond the badass wizard that’s about to wreak revenge out of loyalty. (Let’s not forget an actual deal with the Devil too)
But, what makes me pause, despite all the goodness here that appeals to me is that the author works 9/11 into the story, but not as an event of the terror it actually was. I am of the firm belief that our art, literature, film should reflect our reality, it should be worked into our stories and we should learn from them. But, when those media start making it the fault of anyone else, but whose fault it actually was, I think it’s excusing the action in a way, excusing the parts of humanity (and I mean humanity, and not any other descriptors) that did this. On the other hand, it’s not a big part of the book, so there is that.
I hope that made sense, I am trying very hard not to spoil this for readers, because this is a GOOD book. It’s an amazing story and worldbuilding and I am on pins and needles for the next one. Excitingly, the author has taken a scene from this book and spun into a different series entirely and I can’t wait for that either!
This is a great beginning to a new series, and despite its flaws worth every minute of your time. Let me know if you’ll give it a chance!