The Short Version: Sam Thornton is a Collector, sent out to collect the souls of the damned as penance for past sins. But things go awry when Sam doesn’t collect a soul he was sent out for and so he goes on the run with Kate, facing down armies of both demons and angels alike – none of whom are very pleased that someone isn’t playing by the rules.
The Review: As has become a pretty regular theme on this blog, I was struck first by the cover art. It looks like a beat-up pulp paperback… except shiny and new. And something about it seemed intriguing. The synopsis isn’t all that new or refreshing but something about it just seemed… to call out. And so I picked it up, saving it for a rainy day.
Or, as the case may be, a nice palate cleanser.
If I had to describe this book concisely, I’d fall back on that awful trope of “X meets Y” – but seriously, that’s sort of what it is. It’s Josh Bazell’s Pietro Brwna meets Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Sam Thornton, our main character, is wisecracking and remorseful for his past – but not above doing the dirty work in the present in order to survive. He’s a badass with a heart of gold(ish).
Our plot is pretty simple and the rules of this universe not unfamiliar to anyone who has played in this sandbox before: there are angels & demons, God does exist as does the Adversary, and it’s all just a head-tilt away from Earth. My favorite tweak on the formula is that Collectors (who seem to be relatively neutral in the scheme of things) and demons and angels alike can jump into human bodies rather at will – somewhat like the demon in Fallen, for those of you who know your 90s Denzel Washington films. Or like The Matrix, now that I think about it. But anyway, I digress.
The plot picks up quickly, although somewhat jerkily at times: our hero tries to Collect this girl and it turns out she’s a pure soul! Ruh roh. And we’re off, as Sam tries to get the girl to safety as well as discover why someone’s trying to start a war between heaven and hell. There are many, many chases: on foot, by car, even a helicopter chase that ends somewhat ridiculously in Central Park… although I did enjoy it, despite the somewhat ridiculous level of suspended disbelief that was required. Actually, if there’s one recommendation I would have for a reader going in here, it’s that: suspend your disbelief.
Obviously, if you’re reading urban fantasy, you sort of have to do that in order to get any sort of enjoyment from the thing at all. But I have to be honest and say that this book might require a little bit more. Whether its predictable plot developments or strange and arguably unnecessary set pieces (HELICOPTERcoughcough), there are some moments that just feel a little… ugh. Only a few – and the consistent tone and rocketship pace help temper those lapses – but they’re there nonetheless.
That said, there’s also quite a bit of good stuff going on. Sam is a reliably troubled anti-hero, the His Dark Materials-esque war between heaven and hell is always a reliably interesting backstory, and there’s a sequence where a certain New York landmark is destroyed that feels… well, I’d say it’s the most realistic ‘terrorist’ attack on New York that I’ve seen in literature in a long time. It isn’t a terror attack, of course, not really – but it plays like one. And it’s good old school destruction-of-New York. The sort of thing that books and films can’t really get away with anymore. I’m not advocating it, obviously, but there are few cities that are destroyed as beautifully as New York and Holm’s city is that sort of classic New York. If you know what I mean / please don’t call the Feds.
Rating:4 out of 5. I’m not sure that I can see how this series continues (the book wrapped up rather nicely, with only the vaguest hint of anything happening down the line) but at the same time I’m excited to be there. I don’t foresee the novel taking the place of The Dresden Files in my heart or anything like that. But it was fun and sharp and fast. And, for the first time in quite a long time, I found myself matching up a CD with a book: Nine Inch Nails’ “The Fragile” works quite well. So pump up the beats and just let it wash over you like the trashy paperback it sort of wants to be. It’s worth the ride.