Pros: Although this is the third book in the series, you can pick it up and read it without feeling like background information is missing.
Cons: Waiting for the next book to see how some of the long term effects of this book’s events play out.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Simon Canderous is drowning in a pile of paperwork. His partner and mentor Connor Christos is taking five years worth of saved vacation time, leaving Simon to handle both their caseloads at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs in New York City. It’s no secret what Connor’s probably up to; trying to figure out what has happened to his long-lost brother. When Connor’s obsessive digging stirs up old ghosts (literally) Simon steps in to try and help. Connor seems to have gone crazy, but Simon can’t help but wonder if he hasn’t…
I was a little nervous about picking up another series from a later book, but Anton Strout’s Dead Matter left me pleasantly surprised. As I dove into the story, I didn’t feel as if I was missing any large chunks of background or information. References to earlier novels are brief with the necessary details included. I felt as if I was able to just step into Simon’s world and let it enfold me.
The magic system isn’t discussed in heavy detail either, but that strategy actually works because the powers that characters have aren’t the focus of the story. That actually made Simon’s world feel more real to me, because it is easier to wrap one’s head around individual magical powers as opposed to a one size fits all magical ability in the modern world that people could access. It’s a wonderful means of developing individual characters, as Simon’s ability to see the history of an object by touching it works in wonderful contrast to his girlfriend’s ability to manipulate electricity and electronics. (I would totally love my own personal power of some sort!)
The other thing that I really enjoyed was that Simon doesn’t eschew other people. He’s got a girlfriend, he gets on well with his partner, and he has a good relationship with his boss. Compared to some other urban fantasy heroes, he’s socially well-adjusted. It made Simon easier to relate to, because although his social circle isn’t huge it is fairly warm. That being said, it’s amusing to watch him thread his way through the paper-driven bureaucracy side of his job. The contrast between Simon’s instincts to act and the mountain of paperwork he has to deal with make for interesting choices during action scenes, just to save filling out and filing three more forms in triplicate. It’s a nice balance to the paranormal elements.
I also loved the fact that as I progressed deeper and deeper into the story’s plot, the central conflict kept revealing more and more layers that would make me go back and rethink everything that happened so far. It kept me involved and trying to figure everything out, without making it so easy that I was able to figure it out. Actually, I was very happy to be wrong about my theories, because it led to a very satisfying ending. I have to say, though, that I hope Mr. Strout gives us an idea in the later books about how the ripples caused by this ending play out in the long term. There are plenty of fascinating ways that it could ultimately turn out.
This book is an emotional thrill ride, but it didn’t throw me around so much that I came out of the book feeling battered. Instead, I felt satisfied and rewarded seeing things turn out fairly well, with the major characters if not happy at least satisfied. The plot kept me not only guessing, but interested enough to rethink things that had happened earlier in the book. For me, that degree of interest is fairly unusual, but each new layer had me wanting to find out what little clues I had missed in previous chapters. The magic system is wonderfully simple and easy to slip into, and it’s a joy to ride around in Simon’s head for a while. Even though I’m pretty new to urban fantasy, if books like this are what the genre has to offer then I see another section of the bookstore that I’ll be spending too much money in!