This book is chock full of yes. The main character, Anna Wei, is a brilliant combination of punk, sorcerer, and exhausted bureaucrat trying to have a second life outside of her job, one that clashes completely with the secret government agency she works for. She is likable enough instantly to root for out of the gate, when her squad is commanded to mop up a zombie infestation in a DC apartment building.
The world in Hand of Chaos is richly textured, a layer of invisible magic and political intrigue interwoven with government organizations of the US. Though their aims are basically the protection of American citizens, the Greys of the NSA, the Churchies of the DoD and the Flamers of the CIA go about things in very different ways. Their departments are envisioned, full of bored cubicle-working summoners, strict and thorough requisitions secretaries, and even the security guard at the magical practice arena gets an interesting little mini-bio. All these serve to add more depth to the multilayered and many-faceted magical system the author has obviously taken some serious time to come up with. There are magical workshops. Awesome.
The plot is a double helix, in which Anna and squad desperately try to play catch up to bad boy Ethan, necromancer in service to some serious demonic entities. Not only does Ethan have powerful backup, but he is combining necromantic magic in ways the world has never seen. Anna’s people, by contrast, have budget and personnel crunches, paperwork and briefings, aforementioned workshops, and higher ups to please. Plus, as they’re reminded constantly, they have bureaucratic garbage and political rivals to deal with.
All these factors bring Hand of Chaos to life, like the book is a zombie reanimated through Death Magic and sent on a rampage to eventually transform into a revenant and tear the reader apart.
So why the four stars? Right…
There are three main problems with the book, and all are pretty miniscule. The first is that the world of Hand of Chaos is so thick with magic and organizations and faces and history that plenty of it is spent on exposition. Actually this isn’t really the problem, as the author handles most of it very well. What aren’t effective are the multi-paragraph blocks of expository dialogue by various characters. It feels as if the author pulled these chunks of text out of the narrative and slapped quotes on either side. The result feels wooden and out of character for Anna, Roy, and others.
Second, there are far more minor spelling, punctuation and grammar issues than there should be. They trip up an otherwise stellar read.
Third, plenty of fantasy and urban fantasy books work on a sort of ascending scale (especially series works) where the main character has to find reserves of power within him/herself in order to battle the super badguy. This ultimately leads to something like going Super Saiyan level two. In the following book, the author is then forced to make an even more powerful badguy, and then has no recourse but to make the main character suddenly (to keep up the thrill of the book) develop even MORE badass powers. It’s a hideous cycle that has utterly ruined series after series for me. While this book focuses on the many, varied intricacies and difficulties in learning different spheres of magic, and while Anna ultimately uses what’s in her cranium (yay for brainpower!), the finale of the Hand of Chaos left me feeling proud and frustrated at the same time. Since I’m almost certain this is an issue only I have, it’s a super tiny one.
Overall, this book is well worth the read, given my three tiny issues with it. Fans of Jim Butcher will love the supernatural romp up and down the Washington DC area. Maybe if we’re lucky, we can see more of Anna Wei in the future.
This is the second book in the Pan of Hamgee series. I loved the first one and this is even better. The author has created a bunch of truly loveable – and in one case, truly scary – characters that I just love to hang out with. They come from an alternative reality, the same earth but populated with a variety of different sized and coloured creatures, some more human looking than others. The Pan – basically human – enters our reality with the help of a portal in a thimble to rescue the one chosen by the Candidate for the role of spiritual and temporal leader of his country, but the arch bad guy follows him. A destructive chase through London in flying cars starts off the action and it just keeps moving.
The Pan of Hamgee is one of my favourite characters of all time, the best getaway ever because he’s a coward – or so he says; it makes him good at running away. But the Pan is much more than just the getaway man he thinks he is; he’s funny, smart, noble, humble and, best of all, is just a really a good bloke. He always does what’s right even when he’d rather be running in the opposite direction. However in this, the second of the Pan of Hamgee series, his negative opinion of himself is holding him back from realising his true potential.
Ruth is another wonderful character, one we didn’t have the chance to get to know in the first book, but in this one, she plays a major role, and her feisty interactions with the Pan are just delightful. Their relationship grows as the story progresses. First, he rescues her from a couple of Grongles who want to take her to the very nasty Lord Vernon. She has never met the Pan before and is, quite rightly, suspicious, but they end up spending a lot of time together because they’re on the run, and he’s not only the best getaway man in the business, he’s also pretty adorable.
Big Merv, the bright orange Swamp Thing also deserves a mention, as another delightful character, and Lord Vernon deserves an award for one of the creepiest bad guys ever.
The story is tight and unpredictable and the pacing excellent. The characterisation is superb and the humour delightful. I don’t like the use of the word alright instead of the more correct, all right, but since this is becoming an acceptable usage in dialogue, I’ll have to pass it. The copy editing could be better; it’s not bad, just the occasional lack of punctuation where it would have been helpful, certainly not enough of a problem to stop you enjoying this delightful story.