Monday, February 10, 2020

Smoke and Summons

Smoke and Summons
by Charlie N. Holmberg
Recommended Ages: 13+

Sandis is a vessel. In the dangerous, occult underground of the city of Dresberg, that makes her pretty much the slave of a guy named Kazen, who summons numina – creatures from another plane of existence, commonly known as demons – into the bodies of people like her. When she is in the full throes of a summoning, Sandis loses herself and becomes a fire horse that Kazen uses to terrorize his enemies and punish people who let him down.

One day, Sandis witnesses another vessel being torn to pieces when Kazen attempts to summon something too big and powerful – something even her fire horse is afraid of – so she runs. By a combination of chance and reckless impulse, she runs right into the life of a young thief named Rone, who has a magical secret of his own: an ancient artifact that, once every 24 hours, grants him a single minute of immortality. Suddenly they're both wanted by Kazen's gang of enforcers, on the run from corrupt police, and in constant danger from other vessels Sandis might once have considered friends.

Even in a crowded city, there seems to be nowhere to hide. What Sandis is, the religion of Divinity calls blasmphemy. Even in these days of widespread public corruption, if the police catch her, she'll be executed without delay. Rone, meanwhile, is desperate to save his mother from being unjustly imprisoned for a crime he, Rone, committed. The pair are almost constantly being chased, getting into spectacular fights, facing terrifying monsters (not to mention mobsters), at times herded into traps. Their enemies always seem to be just a step behind, or maybe several steps ahead. Their escapes are so narrow, and the places remaining for them to hide keep growing scarcer, until the atmosphere of doom, dread, and suspense becomes almost unbearable. Budding love, surprise revelations, a touch of betrayal, a pinch of redemption, scenes of chilling menace, a daring rescue attempt and an awful climax mingling terror and despair round out the astoundingly original shape of an action-filled, powerful, world-building tale that leaves me wanting more.

It's only fair to issue an Occult Content Advisory for this first of (currently) three books in the Numina series by an author from a family that gives boyish names to girls. The sequels are Myths and Mortals and Siege and Sacrifice. Other titles by Holmberg include Followed by Frost; Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet; The Fifth Doll; Veins of Gold; The Will and the Wilds; Spellbreaker and the (currently) four-book Paper Magician series, half of which I've read and my enthusiasm for which led me to this book.

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