Posted on December 30, 2008 by alanajoli
Confession time: I’ve had this book in my review pile so long that the sequel has already been released. Here’s the good news. If you’re just finding out about Dog Days now, from this review, you can run right out, buy it *and* the sequel, both at the same time. Will you want to? If you enjoy gritty urban fantasy, jazz music, and improvisation in your fiction, then yes, absolutely.
Dog Days gets off to a somewhat awkward start with too much exposition during an action sequence to make the action feel immediate, but as I got accustomed to the voice of Mason, the hero and jazz/magic improvisation master that narrates the book, the world and story both began to come together. As a practitioner, Mason isn’t much good at the actual practice implied by such a title. His real talent is improvisational magic–something that most people never master at all. Other practitioners use spells to control magic, but Mason can pull energy from the surrounding environment, using ideas and archetypes and emotions to craft the effects he desires. He also has Louie: an Ifrit (named after the djinn, though no one is sure if they’re related) who takes the form of a small, mini-doberman like dog. The initial attack on Mason that occurs in the first several pages is no fluke, and it’s not the only weird occurrence to happen in the magical community of San Francisco. Convinced by an ex-girlfriend and former co-worker, Sherwood, that he should consult with the local enforcers, experts who police practitioners to prevent harm coming to both the magical and non-magical community, Mason finds out that while something is certainly going on, no one is quite sure what is wrong. Add to that another attack, where Mason is trapped in a singularity or pocket dimension, and Mason knows that his days of playing jazz to pay the rent are going to have to go by the wayside until the mystery becomes unraveled. Add to that a generations old tradition of secret Challenges that allow practitioners to take the power of those they defeat, and Mason’s more than got his hands full.
The best urban fantasy novels throw you straight into the world where they’re set, with exposition seeming like conversation in passing rather than explanations of how the world works. Dog Days doesn’t quite get there, but once the story begins to pick up some speed, it keeps its pace right up to the almost-too-short conclusion. Despite Mason’s role as the narrator, it’s easy to see that the character has more potential than he allows himself to access–he has raw power, but not the motivation to use it. This makes him a stand out among many of the driven urban fantasy heroes: he wants to play jazz and get by under the radar rather than develop his own magical talents. But he also embraces his magical persona, rather than wanting to abandon it to live a normal life. He does very little whining and much more coping throughout, which makes him a fun character to follow–even when the situation is beyond his scope, he assesses, and then improvises, hoping for the best results. By the end of the book, it’s all come together and it works, making it clear that despite his own intentions, Mason is likely to get embroiled in other magical occurrences in the future, forcing him to stretch his own limits.
In the meantime, he’s probably delighted to just be playing really good jazz between novels.
Review by Alana Abbott