Cesar and Suzume are on their first mission – an investigation to discover what’s behind a sudden demonic power spike. But with few resources in the Union, both of them are being thrown in the deep end, forced to question and face off against demonic powers they barely understand with so little experience
And then the werewolf shows up, and is further complicated by a cult that may have infiltrated the highest levels. If that weren’t dangerous enough, they all pale next to what happens when the Bosses suspect there has been an information breach.
Facing angry werewolves, fanatical cultists and insidious demons are bad enough – but your boss trying to take you down as well…
I like Cesar as a character – he is so perfectly balanced. He is out of his depth – grossly out of his depth – he has no experience with demons, he’s a middlingly powerful witch at best. He has no experience with demons and is a long way from ever being comfortable around them. He’s floundering, he’s more than a little lost and he’s desperately doing his best which isn’t quite good enough.
But he’s also capable, competent, intelligent and with a basic skill set and determination that means we can see his potential. After all he has been chosen for this roles – and it would be ridiculous if he was utterly incapable. He’s been thrown in early, he certainly needs more training but he isn’t inept. That’s an important difference in making the character fit the story; an out of his depth character works, but if he’s drowning then it wouldn’t make sense for him to be there at all.
It also fits with this very broad and varied world – we have a vast array of creatures in it and there’s rarely, if ever, a chance to just charge in and kill it ‘cos they’re evil. Including a plethora of demons and halfdemons – who don’t all need killing – and some angels who may certainly need avoiding. There’s a lot to learn here.
It also helps deal with the story being inherently reactive. Cesar, Suzume and Isobel are pretty lost in this book, reacting to events, trying to catch up, losing the thread and constantly in salvage mode. It says a lot that their original mission gets completely lost in the rush to try and deal with events that rapidly spiral out of their control. And it works – because they are new at this, because this mission their first and perhaps the protagonist shouldn’t win every one.
This book was more about Cesar learning more about the world he is in and the ultimate purpose of his unit – which is something that was missing since there already appeared to be the Union doing the job he’s been recruited for. The revelations in this book do a lot to justify what is happening and introducing the first threads of a long term meta-plot which hooks me into the story.
Another benefit of the development of this book is seeing the world through a different lens from what I’ve seen before (the ultra-competent and deadly Elise); which means you can see some of the beings and see them as the deadly threat they are rather than “oh, these again? Pfft, I shall kill them then have coffee. Then kill them again for delaying my coffee.”
And yet another development is more analysis of the Union and dispelling the whole good-guys myth that comes with them and bringing some harsh reality to Cesar’s world (appropriate because this whole world setting is kind of dark). This isn’t about fighting the good fight, it’s about keeping things as orderly as possible, taking care of the worst and stopping things getting out of hand; goodness, honour and saving the innocent take a very very very very very distant back seat and “ends justify the means” is virtually a company motto. Cesar’s illusions take a hit.
We have a number of POC in the book – in fact the three main cast are which is more than a little surprising: Cesar is Latino and has an interesting cultural conflict with both cultural ties, language and habit and an awareness of how little has been passed on to him as a third generation immigrant. Suzume is of Japanese descent and Isobel is Native American. They’re all largely free from stereotypes (Isobel openly preying on people’s gullibility in believing them) though Suzume is something of Dragon Lady.
There’s some complexity with the two women. In many ways they’re more competent than Cesar, Isobel certainly. But they both snipe at each other for very little reason which has a whiff of the “women are catty and always hate each other” trope. They’re both attractive and Cesar makes that very very very very very very clear. Really clear. Over and over he makes it clear – though it’s not as bad as the first book. At the same time when Malcolm the Union contact continually “flirts” with Suzume she snaps and tells Cesar how very much she’s sick of the objectification and sexual harassment she gets with an excellent line on how her tolerating it for the sake of a hostile work place doesn’t mean she’s fine with it or happy with it. Isobel also has a good point about Cesar refusing to date her because Fritz – his friend and boss – dated her first; she’s annoyed at the idea that she now belongs to Fritz or he has some nebulous claim on her.
There are no GBLT characters in this book – but someone does use homophobic slurs to try and provoke Cesar. While Cesar isn’t provoked it still annoys me – if you’re not going to bother including GBLT people in a book, the least you can do is leave the homophobia at home as well. It annoys me that there’s more representation of homophobia and homophobic slurs out there than actual GBLT characters
The second book has built on the first and has helped reel me in. I like the world, I’ve always loved the world – but I especially love how these characters fit into the world. With a meta laid out, the organisation underlined I want to see how this develops and grows, I want to see Cesar’s story unfold, I want to learn more about these characters. These books have put themselves on the short list of book series I will keep up with as soon as they’re out not because I like to complete sets – but because I’m genuinely eager to see what happens next