Wednesday, 21 January 2009

‘Evil Ways’ – Justin Gustainis (Solaris)


Or ‘how I found out a little more than I really needed to know about where a white witch keeps her wand in case of emergencies’... I won’t give the game away but it made me wince!
Justin Gustainis’ ‘Quincey Morris’ series is only a couple of books old but I’ve heard good things about it so far. Justin also got in touch to ask if I wouldn’t mind pointing people in the direction of a free excerpt on Fantasy Bookspot (which I did, here’s the post with the link) and I thought why don’t I give the book a go myself? One book through the post later...

White witches are being hunted down and killed and Quincey Morris finds himself in on the investigation by way of a series of murders where young children are having internal organs forcibly removed. Quincey’s partner, Liberty Chastain, is a white witch who’s just foiled an attempt on her life so this investigation has an added edge to it...
All the clues lead to one Walter Grobius, an eccentric billionaire questing for immortality with a wizard who will use black magic to ensure that Grobius gets his wish. Walpurgis Night is the night when all plans will come to fruition and Quincey and Liberty must be on top of their game to stop hell being unleashed on earth...

Gustainis takes a step away from regular urban fantasy fare to give his readers a world where fey creatures exist but it’s human magic users that make up the ‘otherworld’ that exists at the edges of daily life. As a result the ‘fey element’ makes up a very small part of the plot, leaving the reader with a story based very much around human motivations. I got a lot out of this approach as grounding the book in the real world made the ‘supernatural moments’ stand out all the more when they arrived. A book that features an appearance from the Devil himself needs moments like that to go with a bang and ‘Evil Ways’ certainly delivers on this score!

This approach also meant that it was refreshing to read an urban fantasy where the hero isn’t wrapped up in the middle of unresolved feelings for the local were-wolf pack leader/head vampire etc. That’s not to say that sex doesn’t play a part in ‘Evil Ways’ though, the difference here is that its role is found in certain black magic rituals and as a way for black magic practitioners to exert control over their victims. Gustainis doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination here and this wasn’t something that sat well with my reading of the book. There’s a difference between using sex to create an atmosphere, in a book, and using it to drive the plot forward. Gustainis was all about the atmosphere whereas I prefer to see it used to drive the plot. It’s purely a matter of taste but I think it’s still an important distinction to bear in mind. To be fair though, Gustainis does create an atmosphere that fits in well with the plot’s dark subject matter.

The plot itself doesn’t throw up an awful lot in the way of twists but there was still plenty that kept me interested and Gustainis does well in keeping the outcome shrouded in doubt (although I could guess what was going to happen) right up until the very end. Special mention has to go to Gustainis making reference to a certain Chicago wizard from another urban fantasy series. Two worlds collide and it’s done in such a way that you hardly notice... All of the characters playing a part are interesting to get to know but don’t offer much to the reader in terms of investing yourself in them. I got the impression that Gustainis’ writing style was more about recounting events rather than getting right inside the heads of his characters. While this works up to a point, it felt like there was a wall between me and Quincey/Liberty etc and this left me feeling a little detached from the book as a whole.

I had some issues with ‘Evil Ways’ but there is enough good there to make me want to give the next book a go and see if this is a series worth sticking with. The excerpt from ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, at the back of the book, looks pretty good as well...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Mark Chitty said...

Great review Graeme, I'm looking forward to getting my teeth into this after reading Black Magic Woman last week. Definitely a series to keep up with :)