Sunday, 1 July 2012

Mike Carey: The Devil You Know

It's so rare to see good British urban fantasy (I'm not counting Neil Gaiman, or the modern comic fantasy of Tom Holt etc. When I'm talking about urban fantasy, I'm talking not just about a modern but magical setting, but also about a fairly specific feel). There's possibly something about the landscape that doesn't lend itself to the genre, or maybe it's just hard to have vampire slayers who aren't allowed guns by British law, or it could be that there's a dichotomy between Britishness and the kind of tough, hard edged feel involved, or maybe it's simply that the audiences are often US based and like to see their own cities.

I don't know. If I did, my own urban fantasy novels might have been better. What I do know is that Mike Carey is very much the exception to the rule. In his Felix Castor novels, of which this is the first, he's managed to overcome most of the problems that seem so inherent in trying to do British urban fantasy, producing a series that is likeable, exciting, and occasionally brilliant.

For those who don't know, Felix Castor is an exorcist, getting rid of ghosts with the aid of his trusty tin whistle, while simultaneously finding himself in the middle of difficult situations that in this case involve a major public archive, an underworld boss, a couple of demons, and a very unique take on the idea of were-creatures.

The writing here is sharp and often witty as well as gritty. People will probably find it most reminiscant of Jim Butcher, though that might just be the similarities in their heroes. There are differences though. Harry Dresden is a magical tank, able to blast through most problems. Felix Castor is an altogether weaker character, good with a tune but mostly living off his wits, and for me, that actually makes him better. The supernatural elements seem a lot bigger and scarier when our hero has nothing but a cheap whistle and a knack for running away to work with.

This is the first of the series, and maybe there are a few moments where you sense that Carey is just getting his teeth into it, such as the information dump around Castor's history, but for the most part, this is a really good book that I would definately recommend to all fans of the genre.

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