Let me start out this review by admitting what I have done here. The fact of the matter is, the last couple of weeks both Esther and I have been confronted by books that we didn’t like. They weren’t very good, and they made us sad.
So this week, I reached for the candy. I just decided to get all kinds of shallow, and grab a book I knew from the start I’d love. I’ve been waiting to read and review this book forever, but I’ve held off because I knew it would be just a bunch of gushing about an author I’ve already told you to go read. Twice. With the need for a palate cleanser, I turned to my favorite indie author out there.
By now, it is no secret that I love Gary Jonas. I am most likely his most public and utterly devoted fanboy. So I had some pretty high expectations heading into Acheron Highway, Book 2 of the Jonathan Shade novels.
Jonathan Shade gets a lot of comparison to Dresden, and with good reason. It’s an urban fantasy told in the style of a noir-detective story, which is exactly how Storm Front begins. Once you get there, though, the similarities end. Shade is not a powerful wizard; he knows just enough to get himself killed. Actually, that’s already happened; it just didn’t take. Shade has 2 powers: he can see and talk to spirits, and he is immune to direct magic. That last one is a two-edged sword, as he is also immune to magical healing, but it still comes in handy from time to time. Of course, there’s a difference between being immune to a spell and getting hit with the brick the spell threw at you, so it’s not like Shade is totally out of the woods when dealing with wizards.
No, Shade must rely on his friends to help him, and that’s where his novels become some of the most honest-to-God feminist novels I’ve seen in an indie book. The hands-down badass protector is Kelly, a magically engineered warrior chick who’s so terrifying the wizards who built her and her like tried to eliminate them all because of their power and free will. She’s the one that got away. Sure, Kelly is accompanied by her new boyfriend Brand, who is also a “Sekutar” warrior, but Brand’s a second-gen model, built with limitations, and not nearly as badass as Kelly. The main villain(ess) of this piece is the ruler of the underworld, Persephone. Not Hades; Persephone seized control a long time ago, and is now the undisputed head of the dead. Charon has abandoned his post as the Ferryman of the dead, choosing instead to live as Sharon, a librarian woman. In short, the more power a given character wields in the Shade novels, the more likely that character is to be female.
But enough of the political talk, because that’s not where Jonas shines. We care about Shade. I’m not going to go through all the twists this novel takes. In fact, I’m just going to say this: the dead are rising, Shade is running from them, and he’s trying to solve a case for a gal whose coworker stole her heart.
Literally stole her heart. It may or may not be in a jar in his basement.
Normally, at this point, I’d tell you to go read this book. But don’t! First, go read Modern Sorcery, the first book in the Jonathan Shade series. You’ll like it, and then you’ll get to this book and realize that Jonas is constantly getting better.
The ending to Acheron Highway exhibits the classic Gary Jonas totally-unleashed emotional roller-coaster of an ending. I’m actually going to do something strange here, and directly quote the author’s own comments on his blog about the ending to Acheron Highway:
At the risk of having people looking for some kind of twist ending, I will say that the ending of ACHERON HIGHWAY will knock your soul right out of your body. Normally, when I write something, I see only the flaws, so I keep thinking I should have done better. With the ending of this book, I feel I nailed it both with the coolness factor and on the emotional front. I find it’s tough to please myself with my own fiction, but this one did it for me.
He is not overselling it.