Review: “Devil’s Shoestring,” Stefon Mears

Pros: Truly engaging world, plot, and characters
Rating: 5 out of 5

Stefon Mears’s Devil’s Shoestring (Spells for Hire Book 1) features Heath Cyr, a conjure man living in Portland. He casts spells and makes potions for hire. Now his landlord has a rather compelling offer for him, but it requires him to find the Black Book of Sant Cyprian. This is a powerful, evil grimoire that disappeared from the Vatican. Many people are searching for it, and some of them would be happy to take out the competition. Heath isn’t even sure he wants anyone to have the book–but then, it may be indestructible. His friends Colin (a “stoner chic” guitarist with a yuppie-fancy condo) and Nariko (a fierce young Japanese woman Heath used to be involved with) agree to help him find the book and figure out what to do with it. In order to get the book, however, Heath is going to have to go up against a very powerful conjure man–his Uncle Andre, who once tried to kill him as a sacrifice to Baron Samedi.

I love the narrative style and tone of this book, and found it very quotable:

“Maggie?” said Heath. When she popped her head up to look at him, he continued, “Do other people get to drink here without getting threatened?”
“All the time,” she said. But then she winked. “But not the interesting ones.”

There’s a good handful of battles and attacks of various types, leading to plenty of fun shenanigans. The magic system is fascinating. While there’s an underlying intuition to Heath’s Hoodoo–it isn’t all about rote–there are certain rules to be followed and formulas to be cast. The world incorporates a variety of magical systems, and Colin and Nariko use different traditions and methods than Heath does. It would be easy for the magic to feel arbitrary and random, but somehow it never does. You can feel the belief, effort, and training that go into each practitioner’s work.

Casting in Colin’s kitchen felt like he’d been hired by Martha Stewart to hex Oprah on a shoot for Better Homes and Gardens.

The characters are fun to read about. I particularly enjoyed the dichotomy between Colin’s outward persona and his well-decorated living arrangements. I also really want to know more about Nariko’s magical methods. We mostly see Heath’s work in this first volume, with some of Colin’s because parts of the story happen in his condo, which his magic protects. I also love the relationship between Heath and his Uncle Andre. There’s a lot of resentment and animosity there, but there’s also a strain of familial loyalty, some respect between colleagues, and a dash of actions that are constrained by certain rules. It’s a complex relationship. Also, the grimoire is a smartass, and Mears does a much better job than I’m used to seeing of expressing how a sentient item might communicate.

This is a great book that I found totally engaging and well worth the time and money to read. I look forward to reading more!

“Are you telling me you were almost killed by a dead, homicidal woodpecker?”

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