This is the first book in the Jesse James Dawson series. The main thrust of the plot is that the protagonist, Jesse James Dawson, fights demons. People sell their souls to demons for some advantage; then they tend to regret this. In these circumstances, a champion (of which Jesse is one) may put their own soul on the line to fight the demon and get the original soul back.
1. The main character (male!) is slightly unusual in the urban fantasy genre in that he is, in fact, male. He also does not have a disastrous love-life. He has a happy marriage and a daughter. This makes for an interesting angle to the story: while most urban fantasy protagonists are lone-wolf types, Jesse has family responsibilities. He has to think about what will happen to his wife and daughter if he is killed in the line of work. He also has a day-job. This makes him a slightly more believable protagonist.
2. He is pretty durable, but equally it’s made clear that fighting demons does have consequences in the matter of hospital stays etc.
3. Jesse himself is a likeable character, as is his wife. The dynamic between them is convincing, and Mira (the wife) is not simply a cipher with no part in the plot herself; not only is she a witch (and therefore plot-useful), but the author has not made the mistake of thinking that he can give Jesse a wife and then not have him act and think like someone who is in a strong, committed relationship with someone he loves. He’s a bit stuck on the ‘chivalry’ (i.e., male chauvinism), and if I were married to him I’d have slapped him on several occasions, but Mira seems to be OK with him ‘protecting’ her by not telling her things in case she ‘worries’. She’s a strong enough character that if it really bothered her I’m sure she’d have sorted him out, so presumably it works between them.
4. The plot itself works. Unusually, Jesse does not have working magic (although there is a hint that he has some kind of magical ability that he has never worked out how to use), so he’s very much almost the ‘ordinary joe’ making demon-fighting into something between a job and a vocation.
5. K.A. Stewart obviously knows that when it comes to martial arts, you don’t get good – and stay that way – without a lot of training. Some people might say that the frequent descriptions of Jesse’s training regime are a bit repetitive, but for me they add to the ‘realism’ – this is a guy who has a dangerous job. Of course he’s going to train. A lot. It’s going to be a major part of his daily routine, and it’s nice to have an urban fantasy protagonist to whom everything does not come easily.
1. K.A. Stewart does not appear to have had any contact with really good plate armour, if he thinks mail is preferable. There is a reason why plate replaced mail, and that reason is BECAUSE IT WORKS BETTER. Well-fitted plate does not sacrifice much in the way of mobility, and the protection is obviously excellent. Jesse (and Stewart) needs to do some research, or get a better armourer.
2. In some ways, as has been commented before, not much seems to happen in this book in the way of actual action, or indeed in the way of complex plotting. Although it does work well, it’s clearly intended to be the first book in a series. Presumably the next book will have more action and/or complexity.
In conclusion, I enjoyed this book; I will certainly be reading the next book in the series, starting immediately. If you enjoy the Dresden Files, or the Twenty Palaces books, you’ll probably enjoy this.
It’s nice to see an author stepping away from the kick-ass-female-with-no-social-skills stereotype urban fantasy protagonist. The first couple of times, that was new and interesting. Now it’s old and boring. I like Jesse because he’s just an ordinary guy (mostly); he’s got a family, he’s got responsibilities. He worries about what’s going to happen if he gets killed, and he actually talks to his wife (well, some of the time). And she isn’t written as the kind of bitch who makes his job even more difficult by guilt-tripping him – she supports him because ‘someone has to take a stand’ and she recognises that if she says ‘not my husband’ then she’s just as bad, if not worse, than all of the other bystanders who know what needs to be done and choose to do nothing. In a way, she’s just as much of a protagonist as Jesse is; Stewart has written their relationship well. I expect that as the series progresses, we will see more of Mira; she is too well-drawn, and her relationship with Jesse is too close, for her to stay as a background character.
I wonder where Stewart is going to take the series, however. Harry Connolly’s Twenty Place Series, despite being a good series, died due to lack of sales. Personally, I think this may have been because his Evil Beasties did not have enough variety. If you contrast with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Harry Dresden gets a different kind of Evil Villain in every book – poor old Ray Lilly (Connolly’s protagonist) got a different, worse, variation on the same thing each time. Maybe readers got bored with it. I hope that the same does not happen to K.A. Stewart; however good a concept is, if it’s basically a one-trick pony it will only have a limited shelf-life.
But hey, no need to worry yet. Even if it is only a one-trick pony, the trick is still pretty entertaining. I think I’ll go and start reading Book 2 (A Shot in the Dark).