Imagine you’re Jade Crow, a sorceress on the run from a murderous ex-boyfriend. You find a little town in the Idaho backwoods where you can stay lost for a while. It’s off the main roads, and it’s full of shapeshifters and other magical folk, providing enough mystical background noise, you hope, to keep the ex from homing in on yours.
You open up a game and comics shop to pay the bills. It’s not a bad life—you keep the magic on the down-low, mostly, to avoid drawing attention to yourself, and you make a few close friends. You all get together for a D&D session every Thursday night, eat pizza, pop some beers, debate the merits of Golden Age DC versus the New 52 between dice rolls, and make sure everything’s locked up when you’re done, though anybody who finds your shop unsecured after hours is more likely to lock the door for you than pilfer anything. It’s a sweet routine, and sometimes you forget the magic, and the ex, and your history. Sometimes. Almost.
Then one night, a Justice, the fey equivalent of a federal marshal, walks into your shop and accuses you of murdering somebody you never met. Even worse, your best pal’s fox-shifter mom turns up shortly thereafter—dead, and stuffed.
Okay, she’s only mostly dead, and she only looks like a bad taxidermy project, but it’s enough to send your cozy little life right off the rails. Somebody uncomfortably close to your adopted home is killing shifters and sucking the magic out of them, not necessarily in that order. Clearing your name without blowing your cover isn’t going to be easy. Staying alive might be even harder.
Justice Calling is the first volume in Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series (book 6 coming next month) featuring nerdy-cool Amerind spell-slinger Jade Crow. It’s an adventuresome magical mystery leavened with wry humor, but along the way, Jade deals with some weighty questions. She’s been searching her whole life for a place she can belong, and now that she thinks she’s found it, should she stand her ground and fight, despite the risk of her new friends becoming collateral damage from her old lover’s homicidal rage? Will her friends desert her anyhow, once they learn exactly who and what she is—and discover the dark past that haunts her? Complicating matters is the disturbing fact that Jade finds hunky tiger-shifter Justice Aleksei Kirov more than a little attractive, but her romantic track record is less than sterling. Can she trust him? Can she trust herself?
This was a fun read, very much in the spirit of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files stories, but with its own unique flair. Jade is a likable, relatable protagonist, and the magical universe Ms. Bellet creates, skewed just a bit from our own, spices the story without drowning it in mystic overhead, in much the same way that a good role-playing adventure game is best managed with a light touch and driven by the players’ interaction.
There’s some coarse language, typical of the gamer culture and Jade’s generational cohort. I thought Jade spent a little too much time daydreaming about Alek’s sundry masculine charms, but that’s a minor gripe. If you enjoy your magical fantasy in a modern setting with plenty of chuckles and a touch of danger and mystery, Justice Calling is for you.
Annie Bellet is an up-and-coming talent in the world of science fiction and fantasy. As I posted a few weeks ago, her short story, “Goodnight Stars,” was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, but Ms. Bellet withdrew her story once the brouhaha over voting tactics exploded. I thought her work was Hugo-worthy on its own merits, regardless of who might have happened to drop it into the nomination bin. An unfortunate turn of events, but I’ve no doubt there will be many more awards in this author’s future.