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The Fissure King: A Novel in Five Stories Kindle Edition
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The book features Jack Shade, who is a Traveler—someone who can see the magical side of the everyday world that most people are unaware of. As such, he’s an avatar/representative of the Patron of all Travelers (and tricksters and thieves), who, like Jack himself, has many names and nicknames; Hermes and Mercury are among the most common. Except perhaps for being a star poker player, Jack lacks the humor and tricky aspect of his parent archetype, however; indeed, in these stories he is often rather easily misled.
The Fissure King (a nice pun on a different archetype) contains five semi-standalone but cumulative stories. Each follows the well-worn format of the magical detective story; Jack isn’t exactly a private eye, but he has accepted a geas, or magical compulsion, to help anyone who brings in his business card, which adds up to the same thing. The stories are cumulative in that some characters introduced in each also appear in later tales and ultimately play a part in helping Jack solve his own problem: rescuing his teenage daughter from the Forest of Souls, to which he inadvertently banished her after a poltergeist took over her body and killed her mother.
Jack and the other characters are well developed, and the mysteries and their conclusions are reasonably satisfying. My favorite things about the book, though, are bits that Pollack tosses in almost as asides (that is, they play no major part in the stories). One is the idea that not merely the familiar Earth, Air, Water, and Fire but “any discrete part of the world” can generate its own elemental spirits—so there are politics elementals, sales elementals, talk-show elementals, even selfie elementals. I could imagine all sorts of stories spinning out from that concept alone. Another is the Dead Quartet, who show up to comfort people grieving or in need. Although Joan of Arc is “permanent anchor and chief,” the other members of the Quartet change with the times; the current lineup, Pollack says, consists of Joan plus Elvis Presley, Princess Diana, and Nelson Mandela. (Jack gets to meet Elvis.) Care to speculate on who past members might have been, or who might come on board in the future? I’d be happy to give the book four stars for these two ideas alone… but there are plenty more.
Now, there are lots of magical/psychic/supernatural/paranormal detectives and operatives out there. (My favorite, and the one who, to me, most resembles our hero here, is Simon Green's John Taylor from the Nightside series.) Shade is a Traveler and a powerful magician, although not a Power as such. Shade has seen it all and been involved in most of it. So, you get a world weary, experienced, deep and rich magical vibe from him. He has a tragic backstory so you get angst, although not too much. He is extremely competent, although a bit reckless, and is a good man to have in a bad situation. More important to the reader, he is good company. He's a bit of a wiseguy, but his banter is witty, sharp and fast. These tales have an open and amiable feel, as though Shade is confiding in the reader and by taking the reader into his confidence is showing the reader the ways by which the real world of magic really works. This is all enhanced by a close attention to detail. If Shade is drawing a protective pentagram, by the time he's done you know how to draw a protective pentagram. (He's also proud of the precision of his freehand circles.)
The structure of this book is interesting, and works very well. The book consists of five novellas. Part 1 is a simple stand alone case, but it introduces the larger arc of what happened to Shade's wife and daughter, and Shade's obsession with finding and rescuing his daughter. Parts 2 through 4 are also individual stand alone episodes, but each contains hints and reminders about the daughter arc, and there are numerous recurring characters. Part 5 seems like a stand alone case, but it transforms into an adventure that ends up resolving the daughter arc. That's very tidy. Because the individual novellas are so rich and because you might want to savor and enjoy them one at a time with little breaks in between, this structure lets you come up to speed on Shade, visit with him from time to time, and then appreciate the satisfying close of his story arc. I enjoyed taking my time with this book.
The world created here is not dominated by magic wands and mumbled incantations. The author has done a fine and wildly imaginative and consistently authentic feeling job of creating an entire alternate magical world overlying our own. There are literally dozens of fascinating characters and creatures populating the stories. There are histories and inside jokes and innumerable grace notes and bits of color. None of this is careless and all of it fits together into a logical and consistent whole. This is a world of formality and rigor and proper procedure and behavior, and rules and traditions are not to be trifled with. But it is also a world in which the powers have sly, sardonic and bracing senses of humor, and a lot of style. As I say, the stories are rich and immersive. Shade is both jaunty and ruthless, and deadly, and that's a nice mix for a Traveler hero.
If you like these sorts of books - John Taylor, Harry Dresden, Sandman Slim, Yancy Lazarus, Eddie Drood - then Jack Shade will fit quite nicely on your shelf.
(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)