Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review: in Death's Shadow

This is one of those books where I cannot tell you how it came to my consciousness. 

I recall getting a review copy. For all I know, Kal could have mentioned asking for reviewers in one of our groups and I just volunteered.

However I am glad that I got a chance to get this particular review copy, though I cannot tell you for the life of me how it came into my possession. 

This book has so many fun entertaining elements to it, it is hard to know where exactly to begin.

  • You have Metallurgy on bullets that I have not seen since the first Monster Hunter novel. 
  • It brings in Creative elements that would make Jim Butcher want to take notes. 
  • And frankly I also believe that there is a Quantum Leap reference just thrown in for good measure. (When you have a entity that no one else can see except our protagonist and he is called Sam I try to remember back to Quantum Leap to remember which character was played by Dean Stockwell — Al or Sam.)

Welcome to In Death's Shadow.
Ari lives in the shadow of death.
Ari is a combat veteran who has chosen to leave the military behind and live a quiet, normal life.  He's got a few problems though.  For one thing, the cops think he's a serial killer.  For another, a vengeful politician has put Ari in his crosshairs.  To make matters worse, Ari has a guardian angel... and not just any angel, Ari's protector is the Angel of Death.  When his life is in danger, people start to die, and Ari's guardian can sometimes be indiscriminate whose life he takes when protecting him.

That's not even the worst problem.  Death wasn't assigned to him by mistake.  An ancient werewolf wants Ari dead and even with death on his side, Ari might not survive.

Ari needs to find a way to stay alive, to clear his name, and most importantly to get out from under the shadow of death and live a normal life... even if it kills him.
Yes, a reaper playing guardian angel. I appreciate how Kal has avoided making our hero utterly indestructible by giving him a guardian angel who is akin to a weapon of mass destruction. 

Also appreciated? The execution and showing us the point of view of how at this reaper operated within his rules and regulations. 

Overall the book is so much fun I didn't put it down from the moment I picked it up. Right now I am only waiting for book two to come out (and I suspect book 3) so I can just buy all of them in hardcopy and spread them among my friends and family.

Kal brings a lot of wonderful little touches to his writing style. He has one of the better opening lines I've seen since "the building was on fire and it was not my fault." The very off-hand casual easy descriptions and backstory feels effortless -- largely executed with nice sharp background notes that leave a nice little sting and then move on with the rest of the story, easily throwing them out... But boy, does the reader feel them. 

There is also a lot of very easy humor such as how Sam (our Guardian Reaper) chooses to protect our hero. Sometimes to laughable degree — that though Kal never resorts to a Rube Goldberg mechanic. In terms of little touches, there are lines like "I'd managed to avoid ruining this set of clothing with blood at least." 

As I said, it's the little things.

Due to the nature of the Guardian reaper, Sam's protection has led to him having more than a few run-ins with the police. 

Kal even manages to have to make use of the old canard 
"Do you have plans for the day?" "No, I can't make plans, then they can throw around words like premeditation." 
I've been waiting for someone to use that in a novel for years. He just slid it in like a nice stiletto and moved on.

And no, even though Sam is very thorough about his job, he never turns into a deus ex machina. Never. That's freaking impressive.

I even like the little bit about how Sam really enjoys he 24 hour news cycle as "like an athlete staying up on sports news". Also, Sam's commentary on CNN is beautiful.

Great one liners include
"Are demons common in Detroit?" "Clearly you haven't been to Detroit lately." 
"Angels are the police of the Supernatural world" "What does that make Sam?" "Designed sniper."
There are several elements that almost feel like nods to other genre novels. For example one could be forgiven for thinking that Harry dresden's werewolf / Terminator scene is slipped in this one, or having supernatural beasties encountered in Afghanistan feels a little bit like Monster Hunter. And again, little touches like casually mentioning a werewolf and "how thermite grenades work wonders." 

As I said above, some of the metallurgy is so good, I intend to steal a lot of it. Including silver and mercury arounds, as well as electrum.

We have great action, dark humor, easily executed backstory that is all relevant to the plot, along with some great world-building at a pace Mickey Spillane would have loved.

I will also admit to highly enjoying Kal's version of werewolf mythology and lore. He does some nice variations that I personally have never seen before. And he comes up with perfect reasons and rationale for werewolves to be 100% pure evil all the time. After all, one of the enemies is literally a soul sucking werewolf from Hell.

And these are some of the lesser problems our hero will have to deal with. Because on top of a wonderful first novel, Kal has effortlessly set up a sequel without any actual sequel baiting. There is no Empire Strikes Back level BS. There is no "to be continued." And there is only an ending that would have worked perfectly well with the final line of a comic book movie. I mean a good one.

Spriggs is such a good author that it was nearly halfway through the book before I realized how many tropes and cliches that Kal had made good use of without them feeling at all like cliches or tropes. Including: a dead fiance, memory loss before a certain age, et al. However it feels more like the sort of mash up that brought us something as brilliant as Jim butcher's Codex Alera novels. 

At the end, we even get a little of the "hero of the borrowed heart."

Anyway, 5/5. This book was excellent. I look forward to the next one. Hopefully, it comes out soon.

1 comment:

  1. Snagged! And I finally got Hellspawn. I just finished my drawing for today, so I'm off to read!


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