Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Review of Daniel Humphreys Night's Black Agents

Night's Black Agents (Paxton Locke Book 2) by [Humphreys, Daniel]
So, this is a fun one.

If you don't recall, a while back I reviewed Dan Humphreys first Paxton Locke novel, Fade. It was a fun variant of everything you love about Harry Dresden. Magic used in inventive ways. Much snark. Solid fight scenes. It's all in the review.

And now, we have the sequel, Night's Black Agents.  It came out last year. Though I genuinely waited for book three to be near completion before I reviewed it.

Why? We'll get to that.
Paxton got the crap kicked out of him foiling his mother’s plans.

Even that isn’t enough to keep him in one place. Mother is still on the loose after all, and there’s no telling what that evil witch is up to. With his new partner (don’t call her a sidekick!) Cassie, Paxton heads to Arizona to help an old police friend with a supernatural murder problem.

But Mother isn’t content to lay low now that she’s out of jail. She’s got a brand new coven, and she wants her grimoire back. Now. Nothing will stop her from getting her spellbook back, not even her son. Or the ancient stirring in its sleep in the Valley of the Sun.

Paxton’s faced witches, ghosts, and shadow demons, but can he handle an ancient god? With the lives of two young boys hanging in the balance, he can’t back down.
The book has two arcs. One is a subplot detailing the travails of Mother Dearest after her escape from supermax in the last novel -- as well as the hunt by Humphreys own version of the Monster Control Bureau -- only with a different mission.

Our main plot follows Paxton hot on the trail of a magical murderer. The book opens only a week after the end of Fade. (Even Harry Dresden gets more time to rest.) And it begins with "I was halfway through a stack of pancakes when the dead guy walked in the door." Probably the best opening line since "The building was on fire, but it wasn't my fault." (Yes, I hate to open with comparing it to a line from The Dresden Files, but really, it's one of the few works I can compare it to. One of the lines in the novel is literally "With the exception of magic, the only real talent I had was taking a beating." -- tell me that doesn't sound like Jim Butcher.)

We open with a random encounter ... which will become less random over time. Because this random encounter sees Paxton for what he is, and sees him as a snack.

And this is just the opening.

There are a lot of "oh crap" moments like this scattered throughout my notes. Looking at notes I made on the kindle, many of my comments even at the start of the book are "Oy." "Oh crap," "Aw f***", and "What do you mean she has groupies!?" et al. (By the way, a line for Larry Correia fans: "Forensic accounting, it seemed, was a class of sorcery all its own.")

It's even worse when Mother Dearest turns into Kilgrave from Jessica Jones, only creepier.

And all these comments are from Chapter 1. It just gets better from there.

Of course, Dan has great lines to put a backspin on tropes. As Paxton describes his world: "Sheer moments of terror followed by hours of law enforcement shouting." And there are a bunch of ... re-purposed lines from classic Star Wars (as opposed to EU novel Star Wars, as we all know, there were no other films). And all of the one-liners are fun: "an orphaned teenager with sudden-onset wizard syndrome was a fertile field for the corrupting possibility of power," or even the casual "Buddy, you're about the ninth worst thing I've seen this week."

Now, I really must compliment Dan on making an interesting federal agency to hunt black magic. These are obviously fictional feds, as the characters are colorful, interesting and entertaining. Also, to add to the humor, they're attached to ATF (or BATFE, if you want to be picky).  I guess black magic is a sort of firearm. They have their own R and D section, complete with the sort of mad tinkerers you'd expect to be working in Q's lab.

Hell, to be perfectly honest, while I tend to skip the sections on the villains (which is a mistake I made for the Honor Harrington series... oops) Humphreys manages to make these sections readable and tolerable, but more importantly, relevant to the plot as a whole. This is the point where Humphreys fits in magical mechanics in a way that doesn't make your eyes bleed. Hell, who am I kidding, he actually takes the time and effort to MAKE MAGIC MAKE SENSE. (I'm not naming names, JK). Mother turns into a little bit of a Final Fantasy villain, but it makes more sense in book 3.

Not to mention that the Mother subplot is put to great effect when the villain of the week is enough to make her nervous.

And the feds hunting Mother actually serves to tie the main arc plot very neatly back to the primary plot for the individual novel. Overall, it's a great balance of series arc and book plot.

(If the author is reading this review, I just got to this exchange
"So, what, you think this is the end of the world?"
"Maybe. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Fire and brimstone."
Ahem.... smartass).

And Humphreys does a great job of slow world building. Just casual references to gremlins on satellites, or magical abilities of X or Y person. 

Now here comes the boom.
So, why did I wait so long to review this? Because this ends on a cliffhanger.

Imagine the first time you ever saw The Empire Strikes Back. Now imagine if it stopped with Luke dangling in mid-air in Cloud city, Han is still frozen in carbonite, and the last we saw of the Millennium Falcon, it was being chased by TIE-fighters into the clouds.

That's what the end of this book felt like. My last note on the book is two words, and they are often favored by Samuel L. Jackson.

Don't worry. Book three is around the corner. It's coming out the last weekend in June. So if you haven't read Night's Black Agents yet, you needn't worry, you won't have to wait a year for the awesome conclusion. And yes, I've read the ARC for the novel already, and I have notes for that review as well.

Some days, it's good to be the writer. Free books happen.

Until then, if you haven't yet, you can buy Fade and Night's Black Agents here, and by the time you get to the cliffhanger, book 3 should be out. I'll update this post with the link for book 3 when it drops.

If you have gotten them, then I can also suggest Saint Tommy NYPD, which has also garnered a comparison or two to the Dresden files.

And you can check out the latest Dragon Award discussion right here.

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