It’s the 21st Century, and magic users are outlaws. The public considers summoners evil and in league with the Devil. So when someone or something wipes out the entire Spokane Grove, police are baffled and wary. After all, what is more powerful than a group of summoners?
Grace Moore is a foodie - and a mid-level Seattle summoner - sent to investigate the murders. In her search, she discovers Robert, a streetwise teenager, who inherits his summoner uncle’s diary and performs a summoning to get back at a teenage rival - and accidentally attracts a giant demonic raccoon looking to devour anyone with talent. Robert is the most powerful magic user, albeit untrained, she’s ever seen. If the demon raccoon manages to devour him, Grace is sure that the cops won’t be the least of her problems - assuming she lives. But can she keep Robert safe and solve the murder of the magic users before she can become the next item on the demon’s menu?
The above extended blurb almost put me off reading the book, after all who wants to read about a giant demonic raccoon? However, had it done so I would have missed a real treat.
Published in August 2012 by Sky Warrior Book Publishing, ‘Grace under Fire’ is the debut novel by the husband and wife team, Frog and Esther Jones. It is a piece of YA contemporary / urban fantasy, set in modern day America, with the twist that magic and specifically the ability to ‘summon’ is widespread, well organised and of course, totally illegal.
The story is alternately told from the first person perspectives of the two main characters, Grace Moore and Robert Lorents. I understand that Frog and Esther Jones each wrote one of the characters, which explains why the point of view switches with each chapter, presumably to safeguard domestic harmony, however it actually works really well.
Each character has a clear voice and personality that shines through, allowing the reader to engage with both the thirty-something, slightly maverick, lover of fine foods, Grace and the stroppy teenage foster kid, Robert. The easy writing style also allows us to see something of the writers behind the characters as well.
It is clear that both Frog and Esther are genuine, lifelong fans of fantasy and sci fi, the numerous asides to the reader within the text give that away and I found that it made me really engage with the text on a personal level.
‘I was on the away team, and they were trying to pick out the folks who would be standing in the front wearing a red shirt.’ Grace Moore
‘Some people get wise old Asian men when they go to the wilderness to train. Me, I got the gloating gourmand. Fabulous.’ Robert Lorents
At the beginning of the story we see Grace at work, one of the duties assigned to a summoner is to protect the Weave (the barrier between dimensions) and to close any holes that are made by spirits or demons that have come through, either on their own or aided by a summoner – whilst sending the visitors back to their home dimensions in the process.
It isn’t long however before Grace is dispatched from Seattle to Spokane to investigate the deaths of the summoners based there and that is where both story and magic really start.
Without going into too much detail, Frog and Esther have created a system of magic based around blood, runes, summoning and sense that I found to be very interesting and well realised. The only problem I noted was that in some scenes the amount of power being used could only be described as ‘godlike,’ which does limit the writers and stretch the credibility somewhat. After all, if you have dropped a 500 foot tall block of granite onto something at terminal velocity, it is difficult to know where to go next if it gets up and walks away without a scratch.
Which brings me to Rick.
Rick, or Ranger Rick the Cornuprocyon to give him his full nickname, is a giant, orange, raccoon-headed demon, who just happens to like eating summoners. The side effect of which, is that for every summoner he eats, his power and strength increase substantially.
Grace is left with the unenviable task of stopping Rick whilst dodging the local police and trying to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Her task is made almost impossibly difficult by Robert, an untrained summoner with enormous power, but no control and a firm belief that magic is evil.
The result is an exciting, fun and thoroughly enjoyable read.
To be honest I had no idea what to expect when Esther Jones sent me a copy of this book, but to be honest it is probably my favourite book of the year so far.
It isn’t particularly complex and doesn’t have multiple layers or anything like that, it is a very straightforward story moving from A to B, with enough bumps in the road along the way to keep it interesting, but not too convoluted to make it a difficult read. The two main characters are engaging, quirky and grounded in reality and the quality of the writing is excellent.
I would also say that the way the plot and scenes are structured and visualised would definitely lend it to adaption for film in the future.
An excellent debut novel and a highly recommended addition to the YA, contemporary / urban genre.
Review by Stuart E Wise
8.8/10 from 1 reviews
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