American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle

9/10 A solid debut from an author with a lot of talent.

American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle is the first book in a new series focusing on modern day military fantasy. After the success Myke Cole has experienced in this genre I have been expecting more of these types of books to turn up, and while there are a few commonalities between Shadow Ops and American Craftsmen, Tom Doyle does a pretty good job of establishing his own story and making his own mark. Don't the let the cover or the synopsis put you off, this is very solid debut and I suspect we will soon be hearing more about Tom Doyle.

The story follows Dale Morton, a US Army Captain who is an active combatant in the Middle-East, using his occult magic as a tactical advantage in highly specialized missions. After an operation gone terribly wrong, Morton is forced to return home, and as part of his rehabilitation he resigns from the military. The whole situation raises the suspicions of the magical families who run the US military - they become convinced that Morton has crossed to the Left Hand Path (the dark side), and order one of their specialists, Major Michael Endicott, to detain Morton by any means necessary.

This story very much follows the standard thriller methodology with Morton on the run, desperately trying to put all the pieces together so that he can take control and be proactive. It's not terribly complicated but it is executed with precision, with no obvious plot holes and an effective twist at the end. The writing style was interesting, with Morton's point of view told in the first person, and all other viewpoints told in the third person. It took a little time to adjust to at first, but I found this style really worked for me, and ended up ploughing through the book rather quickly.

The characters in this story have been well developed, but they do play up the stereotypes we expect to see from modern military protagonists - cold, hard, calculating, formal, always assessing the situation, and never letting their guard down. They do and say things in accordance with these stereotypes, and the lack of subtlety suggests that the author has no military background. It's not a bad thing, but it doesn't feel as authentic as something like Shadow Ops by Myke Cole. A good thing is that Doyle contrasts some interesting differences between the characters, like how Morton is far more pragmatic than the company man Endicott, and how Morton is more likely to come up with a creative solution than the borderline robotic Endicott. And then there is Scherie, Morton's civilian companion who is the voice of reason, brave as hell, and more than what she seems. I liked Morton and Scherie right from the start, and by the end I had warmed to Endicott and the other characters. They are by no means iconic characters, but they do the job.

What I think will be the make or break for this book is the world building and the magic, which came across as very cliché and was equal parts exciting and cringe-worthy. Magical abilities are separated by families, with the Mortons having an affinity for weather and darker magic, and the Endicotts deriving an affinity for persuasion and healing through faith and prayer - Dear Baby Jesus, please make the zombie hands attack their master. The US military is controlled by various magical families and factions, and they fight a hidden war against other magicians around the world. There is a bunch of good stuff, like the Gideon bibles in every hotel acting like a magical wire tap, and I'm sure Doyle has a few more neat ideas up his sleeve for future books.

American Craftsmen is a solid debut from an author with a lot of talent. Based on the cover and the synopsis I did not expect to enjoy this book so much, but I had a great time reading this book, and I'm glad I didn't pass on it. If you like Urban Fantasy, Military Fantasy or Occult magic, I think you will enjoy this book.

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