Lucy A. Snyder
December 29, 2009
Jessie Shimmer’s roguish lover, Cooper, has been teaching her ubiquemancy, the art of finding the magic in everyday things. But things go terribly wrong when the couple try to call a rainstorm in downtown Columbus. A hellish portal opens, and Cooper is ripped from the world. Worse yet, a vicious demon invades the city. Jessie barely manages to slay it, but she’s gravely wounded and the capital’s center is destroyed. As if losing an eye and a hand isn’t bad enough, the city’s ruling mage, Benedict Jordan, brands her an outlaw. With only her ferret familiar to help her, Jessie must find the dimension Cooper’s trapped in and bring him back alive before sinister machinations make both of them vanish for good.
Books With Balls is a special reviewing segment here at Lurv where an author goes where no other author can, meaning this author’s style is unique. It’s a book with balls. Big meaty ones.
Number of Balls (scale of 1-5, 5 being best): 5
Why is this book ballsy?
1. The heroine loses an eye – she loses a damn hand! The author isn’t interested in giving it to the reader in a pretty way, and I love how severely she tested Jessie. There really doesn’t need to be any other reason. This heroine rocks for all she goes through, still managing to come out on top.
See that cheeky little ferret on the cover’s bottom right? That’s Palimpsest, or Pal for short. He’s Jesse’s familiar – and so much more. I thought he looked so out of place on that cover when I first saw it, but Pal (who has his own POV told several times) proved to be a very important character. Overall, Spellbent was, oddly, a disturbingly pleasant surprise.
Recently I was turned off an urban fantasy that used children in a particularly gruesome way, and I was reminded of that reaction while reading Spellbent. It struck me that I was as repulsed by some of the things happening in this book as I was Child of Fire by Harry Connolly, and I felt the gruesome elements were similar in tone, yet with this book…they worked. Snyder has a very distinct imagination that came through stronger and stronger as the book progressed. While some things remained in my realm of Shock Value by the end, I actually really enjoyed Spellbent.
Jessie Shimmer is basically an entry level member of the occult, and unfortunately things go terribly wrong for her and her mentor/lover, Cooper. Both have had terrible nightmares for a while now, though Jessie’s are direct remnants of Cooper’s. When the two go on a routine job to bring on the rain for local farmers, a literal shit storm of trouble opens up instead. Cooper is sucked away into somewhere, leaving Jessie to fend off the creature his once-Jack Russel dog familiar turns into, and whatever the heck else came through the portal that was opened. To say Jessie’s unprepared for what comes next is an understatement.
But Jessie doesn’t run. She tries her best to fix/stop the damages that have mounted as a result of hers and Cooper’s spell (or so it seems; there is a lot more going on that it seems at first). As a result, she loses some body parts – literally – and she comes under fire from the governing circle. In effect, Jessie is banished and therefore unable to receive help from anyone else like her. She’s also ordered to leave Cooper’s disappearance be, something she cannot do. So she’s loyal, despite extreme pressure to abandon her lover to whatever misfortune has befallen him.
What ensues is one of the oddest, most unusual, twisted, violent, gross and totally engrossing reads I’ve had in a while. This really is unlike any urban fantasy I’ve read yet. The closest tone I can think of is Hellboy. There are some very different forms of magic and magical creatures used, not too much unlike those in the Hellboy movies. Still, Spellbent, is in and of itself, unique. It doesn’t copy anything that I can think of, instead it feels…well, as fresh as something this gruesome can. And I do say that with sincere enjoyment.
Also strange, that enjoyment, because I’m not usually into such gritty reads. Sometimes the action feels more horror than fantasy, but I’m coming to realize that horror isn’t necessarily a bad element in urban fantasy. It certainly lent Jessie’s battle to find and rescue Cooper a very life-threatening aura. I don’t think I’ve ever met an urban fantasy heroine that tries this hard. And Jessie is better for it.
Because of this, she never once comes off as pretty, weak, delicate or anything of the like. Yes, she has faults. Oh does she ever. She’s stubborn as damn hell and she tends to charge into things too recklessly, and by the end of the book those first body parts she lost weren’t the only damages she sustains. But this makes her wonderfully unique as well, as she is unapologetic in her balls-to-the-wall mannerisms and relentless drive. She doesn’t need or want pretty at this point. She’s prepared to get just as ugly as those trying to take her down, and I plain loved that. I also loved that she saved the day. In the end, she didn’t need a man to do the saving for her.
The plot and pace were great. I don’t think there was ever a dull moment. Peppered throughout was Jessie’s understandably (though perhaps predictable) rough and dry sense of humor. I usually enjoy a smart-mouthed heroine, though. I enjoyed the writing too, and I thought the dialogue was another great showcase for Jessie’s wit and personality. Going back to the creatures, some of the coolest mentioned were the Virtus, which I could only imagine as snake-like creatures that descended in a spiral pattern from the sky when summoned. These creatures helped decide conflicts between parties, such as Jessie and the governing circle. They could be swayed into choosing sides or even striking into action on their own, as Jessie sees late in the book.
Familiars were also an interesting aspect. They’re given important roles as these kinds of demons that were basically incarcerated and sentenced to serve in animal bodies on earth as familiars to magic users. Pal, Jessie’s familiar, was a very central character that aided Jessie immensely, going against the rules to aid her. I was impressed to see the roles of familiars expanded beyond pacified animals that are used as conduits for magic and nothing more. They act instead more as guides.
Other characters are a little less important than Jessie and Pal. Cooper isn’t seen again till almost the end of the book, but I do hope he’ll be more present in future reads. He must be something pretty special for Jessie to endure what she does for him. Other than these three, there was Karen, who is kind of like the resident mama witch to all the special kids that don’t have a home. She fosters them and even though there wasn’t a head count, I got the impression that she took care of a lot of kids. There was also Cooper’s brother, the Warlock, and the Warlock’s girlfriend, both of whom become important in Cooper’s rescue. And then there was the governing circle, who for the most part, besides their leader, remain a faceless body of evil that seems to have anything but the best interests of their particular community in mind.
Going back to the violence in this book, I won’t lie – it might not be for everyone. There were some pretty shocking things in this book. Shocking and dismaying things that happen to Jessie, to children, even to the villains. I think it really says something, though, when a reader like me, who isn’t into gore at all, can actually appreciate the imaginative way the author used it all. Spellbent truly is a very different take on urban fantasy and I do feel its in a realm of the genre all its own. I really liked it despite some elements that by the end of the book still felt thrown in for shock value as opposed to being valuable to the story.
Book two, Shotgun Sorceress (which has some great – and accurate – cover art already), releases October 26, 2010 and I’m really looking forward to it. If you’re ready to step into a much darker realm of urban fantasy that pushes buttons left and right with relentless force, Spellbent is the book for you. I know I’ll be reading the second to find out what in the hell Snyder has up her sleeves next.
Rating: Four and a Half Scoops
On the cover: When I spotlighted this cover a while back, the author referred to the white dragon-like creature as Mr. Not-Appearing-In-This-Book. I also wondered at the eggs, and I have to say after reading the book, it seem as though the artist, Daniel dos Santos (of Brigg’s Mercy books fame), took a conglomerate of events that occurred in the book and meshed them to produce this cover. Therefore, I do think it’s accurate. A bit of a drama, but accurate. There are eggs at one point and not the kind with fluffy baby chicks inside. There is such a creature as the white dragon described in the book and there is, of course, Pal, the ferret. The only difference, perhaps, is that Jessie is physically messed up a hell of a lot more than the cover implies.
- Shotgun Sorceress (October 26, 2010)
For an excerpt, click here.