Rating: 4 out of 5
This is the first Alan Baxter book I’ve thought was less than perfect, but I’m still giving it a 4, so it certainly did something right! Since Bound (Alex Caine) (Volume 1) is listed on Amazon as a third edition, I have to wonder if the difference is in how long ago this was written and how much he’s skilled up since then?
Alex Caine is a cage fighter. He sees people’s intentions and purposes before they do things, so he can read what his opponent will do and react accordingly. He’s always attributed this to empathy, but one day an older man named Patrick Welby hunts him down and offers to show him all about magic. Caine isn’t interested until some bad guys make it dangerous for him to stick around, so he travels with Welby even though he still doesn’t really believe magic exists. As events around him heat up, he makes new friends and enemies and sets out on a mission that could result in his death–or it could make him monumentally powerful.
At first the narrative feels a little rough. It’s as though the author hasn’t quite sunk into his “voice” yet. As things heat up and the book gets underway, this gradually improves until it’s chugging along quite nicely. Also at first, it seemed like the author was struggling a bit to give the women personality (there’s actually a scene where a woman perches on the corner of a desk and files her nails–which, I’m telling you, this woman would damn well get her nails done for her). This, however, is another thing that improves as the book goes on. Ms. Sparks, one of the villains, develops more than just “sleeps with her boss” as a personality. Silhouette, someone Alex takes up with, develops more than “hot dangerous chick” as a style. At first both Ms. Sparks and her boss, Mr. Hood, are fairly cartoonish, but that, too, gives way to more interesting personalities. I wasn’t happy to see that one bit part character was described, in every appearance, as obese. It would be nice if this wasn’t seen as a defining characteristic.
I love the fact that even as Alex’s power grows, he still tends to fall back on his physical combat abilities (even without his supernatural edge, he’s trained for years) even as he learns to do new things with his talents. It makes sense that in an emergency he’d fall back on what he knows best, and he won’t always pick the right tool for the job. He also tends to lose control, which has a fascinating story to it.
I think the part I liked best was the collection of various creatures Alex encounters. There are leathery, mysterious black “birds” that follow him around. There’s a trio called the Dark Sisters who turn out to be quite a bit of dangerous fun. There are the half-Fey “Kin” that are behind legends of various supernaturals. This is an excellent world-spanning dark adventure, and I can’t wait to read the next two books!
Content note: sex, and child death.