Series: The Burned Man #1
Published by Angry Robot on January 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
Our reviews of this author: Dominion, Damnation
Just finished reading Drake, a new urban fantasy written by Peter McLean and set in a gritty London underground where gambling and gangsters, demons and other ancient creatures stalk the shadows.
Don Drake is essentially a hitman, he calls himself a ‘Hieromancer’ but basically, in his own words, he ‘summons and sends’ demons and other nasties to do the dirty work he’s been contracted to do by the local mob. He has a little helper, a rather repugnant and vile mouthed creature called the Burned Man. The Burned Man is in actual fact an archdemon who has been imprisoned many years ago and is now represented on earth by a small effigy of a burnt man chained to an altar. Of course the actual demon really resides in Hell but having been captured and bound in this form he is compelled to serve his owner and his power is really quite vast.
The story gets off to a fairly rapid start and we are introduced to Don just as he hits an all time low, losing at cards to Wormwood, the seedy (not to mention other worldly) owner of a gambling den. Losing at cards of course means Don is now in Wormwood’s debt and the interest is high and rising daily. His first job, to take out two rival gangster types, goes horribly wrong however and in the process a young innocent is also murdered. This of course leads to a whole new problem. Enter the stage the Furies – the three women of Greek Myth renowned for seeking justice and vengeance. Now, we have a different kettle of fish as the Furies stalk Don and something else seems to stalk them.
In terms of characters – well, frankly, Don is a bit of a drunken cowardly sort really or at least that’s how he starts off. He has a modicum of talent when it comes to his magical ability but he frequently finds solace in the bottom of a bottle, he cheats, lies and steals from his girlfriend and on top of this he uses demons to kill people – albeit that most of his ‘hits’ are unsavoury types and the world is probably a better place without them in it. In spite of this you do end up feeling for him. He spends a good deal of the book being beaten to a pulp or kicked to the pavement. He seems to make no end of idiotic choices and you can’t help slapping your head in frustration with him occasionally. At the same time you have to realise that he’s dealing with characters that are not human – and some of them will (and do) mess with his head!
The other key characters are Trixie – who I won’t go into detail about but she’s a character that I really did like. The Furies – who are very aptly named and bring such a lot of wicked anger to the scene! Debbie, Don’s on/off girlfriend who is also an alchemist who comes up with the vital ingredients needed to summon, the potty mouthed Burned Man and another dark and sophisticated stranger who also joins the fray.
The world building. This is definitely the seedy side to London. Dark, rough and a natural draw not just to criminals but to demons and other sorts. It’s very easy to imagine with dark alleys and glamoured buildings and you read along sure in the knowledge that something nasty is lurking and waiting to pounce.
The plot is intriguing and the pace is fast. There is plenty of action, in fact, frankly, never a dull moment.
In terms of criticisms. I don’t really have any criticisms to be honest although I feel that I should reinforce that there is plenty of violence, sex and profanity thrown in here so be warned of that. I wouldn’t say it was gratuitous, just blunt realism really. Also, I must say that the book, being set in London, is very ‘British’ – which you might expect and certainly didn’t create a problem for me personally but some of the ‘speak’ may give people, not familiar with the terms and slang used, pause for thought – although I think this becomes less noticeable as the book proceeds.
I thought this was a very entertaining start to series. It’s a bit near the knuckle in parts and the author isn’t shy about sharing ALL of Don’s thoughts with the reader which can be a little disconcerting sometimes, but it pretty much kept me glued to the page and was a very quick read. It has an almost noir detective type feel but with demons, fallen angels and Hellhounds running amok. On top of this the story concludes with a perfect set up for what promises to be a very good second book in series.
Do we really need another urban fantasy? Of course we do provided it brings something new to the table and I think McLean manages to do just that.