This is the first book (novella) in the Twenty-Sided Sorceress Series. Annie Bellet describes this series as urban fantasy, but this opening book takes place in the small town of Wylde, Idaho — which backs onto a large national park. So urban is not the feeling I received from this novel despite the fact that Wylde boasts an antique store, the heroine’s comic and games store, and a college.
Jade Crow, the heroine and the twenty-sided sorceress, has been on the run for years from her murderous ex-lover, Samir, a powerful sorcerer who wants to absorb her powers by devouring her heart. She’s chosen to settle in Wylde because it is a place of power where lots of other magical beings live and she hopes all those other types of magic will make it more difficult for Samir to sense her own.
But of course trouble happens and Jade is forced to decide whether she should help her friends or get the heck out of Wylde before Samir finds her hiding place.
Justice Calling follows many of the basic genre conventions of urban fantasy (and its older mystery cousins: hard-boiled and noir detective fiction). Like many urban fantasies (and detective stories) the story is narrated in the slightly snarky first-person voice of the protagonist, Jade Crow. And like many other female-centered series in these genres (e.g., Kate Daniels or V. I. Warshawski), this first book opens with Crow trying to remain emotionally disengaged from those around her and ends with her choosing to become involved. And of course Crow’s loner status is because of her emotionally fraught past — which is partially revealed in the novella. Rejected by her birth family in her early adolescence (although it is not clear why in this novella) and scarred by the horrific deaths of her friends, who had become her second family, Crow’s backstory and emotional trajectory is familiar, not so much in its particulars but in the ways that it conforms to genre expectations.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading this novella — it was a pleasant, competently written story, but many of the characters felt underdeveloped as did the setting. This made it hard for me to have much engagement with any of the characters and therefore reduced the emotional stakes of Crow’s final decision to stay and fight. As for the setting — I’ve noticed that in the urban fantasy and PI detective stories that I’ve read, the setting often plays a central role (e.g., Atlanta for Kate Daniels or Chicago for Warshawski). Here the setting felt generic and often I was confused about exactly what type of community Wylde was and what exactly was where.
There were some interesting ideas at play within this novella — I especially liked the fact that magic is like any other skill — you need to use it or you lose it. I think also the set up for the different kinds of magic shows promise.
I found this novella enjoyable but not enough so that I need to acquire the next one in the series and add it to my current skyscraper-high TBR pile. If I ever whittle my pile down to a reasonable height, I may decide to seek out the next book about Jade Crow and her friends.
*Yes I’m about one week late with this post and I rather suspect that this will be happening with all my TBR posts. But at least I’ve managed to get one book off the TBR pile and written the review!