Here’s what you want to know about these stories in general: Their writing was spread out over most of the years Butcher has been working on the Dresden Files. They fill cracks in the canon between the Dresden novels and blanks in the background of Harry and his friends. They spotlight a rich variety of themes, tones, and secondary characters. They cover a range of moods between deep cold terror and urgent panicky thrills, between laughter and tragedy, between light detective jobs with a side of magic and crises that shake the fabric of creation. Two of them are told from the point of view of characters other than Harry, while he himself remains in the background. And yet all of them are charged with the unmistakable energy of fun that we have come to associate with a certain wisecracking, tough-as-nails wizard.
After reading the first book in the “Beyonders” trilogy, I decided to drop everything and go to the library to fetch Book 2. This turned into a whirlwind tour of five library branches, after which I came home with two armloads of books to read. Happily, I was able to get my hands on this, the middle book of the trilogy, and read it with an exquisitely tuned balance between relish and haste. And since I already have Book 3 in hand, my only regret will shortly be that it’s over too soon.
Thirteen-year-old Jason is an ordinary, baseball-playing, zoo-volunteering kid from Colorado, until the day he hears music coming out of a hippopotamus. Leaning closer, he falls into the hippo’s mouth, slides down a long chute, and comes out at the bottom of a hollow tree in a completely different world. It’s not how most visitors from our reality find their way to the magical land of Lyrian. Later, Jason meets a girl his age named Rachel, who followed the more usual route by walking under a stone arch and suddenly finding herself elsewhere. From the moment they arrive, they are in danger. Things are going on in Lyrian that they don’t understand. Weird races, created long ago by a group of wizards, are doing weird things, following an agenda that either serves or seeks to overthrow an evil wizard emperor named Maldor. And just when Jason thinks he’s on the scent of a way home, he reads something in a forbidden book that makes him Public Enemy Number One.
In Book 3 of the “Odd Thomas” series, the young fry cook who sees dead people has retreated to a monastery in the mountains for a needed break from the stress of his quiet hometown. He only wants a little time to heal from two harrowing encounters with monsters in human form. But his respite is cut short by the appearance of bodachs at the abbey—or more precisely, in the school for mentally and physically disabled children run by nuns, next door to the monastery. These silent, shadowy creatures always seem drawn to places where there will soon be violence on a big scale. For reasons Odd cannot begin to guess, the gloating bodachs have started to crowd around these defenseless and unwanted children. He has only a day or two to figure out how to protect them, and from whom. Or what.
The off-season is usually a sleepy time in the scenic coastal town of Pine Cove, California. This fall, however, events conspire to make it a madcap emergency, combining crime, craziness, a man-eating monster from the depths of the ocean, and an epic wave of horniness. Fasten your Adult Content Advisory: It’s going to be a raunchy comedy from the author of “Practical Demonkeeping”, which shares this book’s setting and some of its characters.
The second book in the “Troubletwisters” series finds the small seaside town of Portland threatened by a fragment of the Evil that menaced it in Book 1. At least, so the Shield twins suspect. Jack and Jaide are still a bit jumpy after their narrow victory in their first adventure. The wards are all intact, protecting Portland, and the world, from the all-consuming hunger that lurks outside our universe. But Jack can never forget how it felt to have the Evil invading his mind, tempting him to join it. And neither Jack nor Jaide finds it easy to take Grandma X at her word since she hardly ever gives their questions a straight answer. “Mind your own business” simply doesn’t cut it with these curious kids, even though they know they have a lot to learn about controlling their gifts as future Wardens—and that it is these still unruly gifts that give them the name “troubletwisters.”
The cover art of this book gives a misleading impression of what kind of trouble the “troubletwisters” specialize in. The fact that the book actually does feature several tornadoes and a hurricane may add to that impression. So you may be surprised to learn that the term “troubletwisters” in this book does not have anything to do with cyclones, as such. Troubletwisters are kids who have started to manifest powers—powers that, if brought under control and properly harnessed, will enable them to serve as Wardens – specially gifted people who dedicate their lives to keeping the Evil (with a capital “E”) out of this world. More on that later. While they are still coming into their powers, troubletwisters have a tendency to cause unintended chaos and twist a little trouble into a big problem. Hence the name.
The second book of Lyonesse concludes this most unusual variant of the Arthurian legend, based on the folklore of the author’s native Isles of Scilly, off the southwest tip of Britain. It follows up on “The Well Between the Worlds”, which seemed such an engaging and original work of fantasy that I had read half of it before I realized that the resemblance between its characters’ names and figures associated with King Arthur was more than a coincidence. Now on board with the secret, I read the second half of the tale and met even more familiar characters under a different guise. Amazingly, knowing what I already know from having read several tellings of the deeds of King Arthur and his knights, I didn’t know enough to spoil the plot of this book. I guess you’d have to grow up in the Isles of Scilly to know what to expect. Maybe even then the creative touches added by the author of the “Little Darlings” series, and of many other novels for adults and children, would be enough to make the story seem new, richly inventive, and full of surprises.
Siobhan Quinn is a runaway, a junkie, and a tough chick, living by her wits in the streets of Providence, Rhode Island. Things start to get really dark for her when she sees her girlfriend being eaten by a ghoul. She kills it, of course. Under the patronage of a flamboyant character whom she calls “Mean Mr. B,” she soon sets out on a career as a slayer of nasties. Then one inadvertent slaying lands her in the middle of… well, I don’t want to spoil it. Before Quinn figures out what’s going on, she gets turned into a werewolf and a vampire—doubly cursed, doubly damned, an abomination to abominations, etc., etc. Worse, someone (or something) is pulling her magical strings, controlling her transformations, and using her to track down and kill everyone who crossed him or her. Or it.
I’m just going to come out and say this. It’s “Moby-Dick”, only without the boring bits. Well, no. What I just described would be an 80-page novella. This is a full-size book, filled wall-to-wall with thrilling action, squirm-worthy tension, weird discoveries, and warm, appealing characters. Also, instead of water, the ocean in this version of “Moby-Dick” is a seemingly endless landmass filled with merging, splitting, tangling, and criss-crossing lines of rail. Where the soil is loose enough for creatures to burrow in it, the railsea takes care of itself (or is maintained by some supernatural agency; but let’s leave the theological questions to one side). It isn’t safe for people to set foot on this ground because it is infested with mutant meat-eating oversized worms, insects, and furry things. The rockier bits, islands if you will, are populated by human settlements. The higher elevations, where the atmosphere is poisonous to earthly life, belong to creatures brought here and left behind by visitors from alien worlds.