The Short Version: Sam Thornton, the Collector who barely averted all-out war in Dead Harvest, is back on the job and trying to keep to the straight and narrow. So he gets played for a soul he was supposed to collect, he quickly tries to find his former friend and rectify the mistake before someone notices. Of course, it’s never that easy – and while failure means Nothingness for Sam, it might also mean the end of the world as we know it for the rest of us.
The Review: Now it gets good. Dead Harvest was just a setting up – a getting-to-know-you. This is where things start happening. Holm doesn’t waste much time reminding you of what came before, although there are just the right amount of casual summaries to jog your memory (Jim Butcher could take notes…). Still, this is clearly a book for those who’ve read the first one and as a result, it feels like Holm has been let off the leash a little bit.
Gone are my problems with that first novel and its need for juuuuust too much suspension of disbelief to stay afloat. There’s even a little sense that Holm knows just how damn crazy some of that stuff was – the winking reference to the helicopter incident is delightful. But mostly, the novel shows that we’ve now got an author who is sure of the story he wants to tell. We’re exposed to a bit more information about the reality the series takes place in – the Fallen and the angels are still duking it out and they’re getting more brazen in their attacks, which looks to all the world like some really bad natural disasters and terror attacks. But there’s more going on. God, while he exists, might not actually be the only God – or even the first god. There are Lovecraftian horrors lurking just beyond this plane of existence, ready to send you into gibbering terror. And there’s a whole lot more revolving around Sam than he seems to know.
Holm lets the action roll more fluidly this time, too. There’s a terrific car chase (Sam’s use of his body-hopping power gets a star turn here) as well as a heart-pounding break-in in the middle of the desert (remember what I said about the Lovecraftian horrors? Check!) that feel so wonderfully assured you just zip through them. There’s a whole lot of gross-out that happens here too. The scene with the bugs in the motel room actually sort of kept me from sleeping entirely comfortably last night, I’m not going to lie. There’s a whole lot of blood and a fair amount of nightmarish description, so I will say that this isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. There’s true grit in Holm’s noir – he’s not pulling punches.
I’ll admit that I did actually miss one thing from the first novel: the interplay between demons and angels. Sam’s mostly on his own for this one – the sultry Lilith shows up, as does the demon who scored Sam’s soul in the first place, but this is a novel much more about Collectors. Well, and Charon – whoever the hell he is. But there’s a sense that while other things are happening, they’re happening offstage. Even the bombardment by the Chosen of the Fallen at one point (I won’t go into details – trying to stay spoiler-free since this book isn’t out yet) feels like it happens juuuuust stage left. The result is a more personal novel, a smaller scope if you will. Sam still has support – Gio and his blind tranny stripper girlfriend (can’t make this up) as well as ol’ Roscoe are good companions for Sam along the way. But the big reveal at the end wouldn’t have landed as powerfully had it not been a more intimate novel than its predecessor. I sort of wish Holm had given us a little more scope in the first novel so that the backstory of Collector teams and what-not wasn’t brand new in this novel (and as a result, feeling like an invention to create friction in the plot) but because the scope stays narrow, the novel pulls it off.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Holm’s established himself with this one. It’s smart (the winking references to pop culture alone will make savvy readers grin) and packs a hefty wallop of action as well as setting up several dominoes for the next book. And, unlike the first book, this one definitely leaves us with several major questions. I for one am damned excited to see what comes next – I hope we have Sam Thornton with us for a long time, to set in the pantheon next to Harry Dresden and John Taylor.