I’ve long been a fan of urban fantasy, though perhaps I didn’t realize it. When I first discovered the genre, I’d found something that I’d long sought. Growing up, I was into scary movies a bit too much. Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and all the rest were well-worn topics of conversation in my circle of friends. The one thing that always bothered us was the fact that the victims in the movies were just that. When they fought back, it was ineffective. Yeah, Jason Voorhees could survive a machete to the head, but how about a team of Navy SEALs or the 101st Airborne? No way. (Of course, long after our childhood debates this conceit was used to some extent in the awful Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, though they lamed out and retconned a way for Jason to survive heavy artillery.)
Apparently my friends and I weren’t alone in that line of thinking, because the best urban fantasy, to my mind, consists of potential victims standing up and laying the hurt on monsters. Authors like Faith Hunter, Jim Butcher, and Larry Correia excel in this aspect. Russell Newquist’s “War Demons” adds another log on the butt-kicking fire.
We first encounter our protagonist, Michael Alexander, on a mission in Afghanistan that’s about to go horribly wrong. There’s enough mystery and terror in this intro to get you hooked. In my case, I read the book in a couple sittings over the course of a day. It was a struggle to put it down, and considering the work I put aside to do so, that says a lot for War Demons. When we rejoin Michael, he’s trying to live a normal life and attending college. All the while he is haunted by his demons – real and unreal.
Along the way, Michael collects a crew of friends, all of whom are nicely realized and have interesting turns. He needs the help, too, because there’s a vast menagerie of monsters to deal with — though to Russell’s credit, there are some great twists on the classic monster tropes that are used here. It’s at once creative and side-steps the old cliches.
My other point of praise for the book is that it took some nice twists and turns with the plot and the characters. My expectations as to where certain people would end up were completely off. That’s a rare treat, and a nice riff on the standard hero’s journey.
There are several awesome, fist-pumping moments that I’m reluctant to spoil. I’ll just say “dragon versus F-16s” and leave it at that. (Something else, BTW, I didn’t realize I needed until I saw the vastly disappointing Reign of Fire.)
Only quibble? It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. But rest easy, there are more on the way.