Shutter every window until it’s all blown away; every brick, every board, every slamming door blown away. Until there’s nothing left standing, nothing left of yesterday; every tear-soaked whiskey memory, blown away, blown away. Let’s blow through Death Blows, by D. D. Barant.
FBI profiler Jace Valchek was pulled into this parallel realm to hunt for Aristotle Stoker, a human serial killer who preys on vampires and werewolves. Now she works for the National Security Agency of the Unnatural States of America – and her boss is a vampire.
At a bizarre crime scene, Jace finds a bloodsucker murdered by magic, fried to the bone and dressed in the costume of the comic book hero the Flash – a character who isn’t supposed to exist here. Comic books have been outlawed for their powers, including crossover spells like the one that transported Jace to this world. Soon, she’s following a trail of dead bodies into the sinister underworld of black-market comics – where a deranged madman gives new meaning to the term “super-villain.”
With the first book having taken care of the general details about how and why the world diverged from our own, Death Blows is free to delve deeper into its worldbuilding and explore in more detail how one particular aspect of its culture differs from our own: comic books. Far from being an innocuous art for, they are illegal due to their potential as an easily-abused powerful source of ritual magic; and they’re serving as an inspiration for the crimes of the psychopath du jour.
Incidentally, it seems one of my questions from the review of the previous book has been answered. The existence of Jace’s parallel world is more or less common knowledge: summoning people from it might require massive amounts of mystical mojo, but other objects are easier to transfer, and there’s a brisk black-market trade it comic books pilfered from our reality. Odd, but good to know.
Overall, the story told by this book is strong. It didn’t have a single moment of shocking revelation which changed everything, like the reveal of the Elder Gods in Dying Bites, but it had a much faster beginning and remained more engaging throughout. The Bravos were a colorful bunch of characters, and I enjoyed meeting them. It does bug me a little, though, that the series is so fast and loose with its rules as to what’s possible or not with magic. For instance, we’re initially told that while the Quicksilver Kid’s comic book origins say he’s a golem animated with mercury, it’s not actually possible to make a golem that way. However, then the Quicksilver Kid shows up, and it turns out he really is animated with mercury. So when Cassius shoots down Jace’s first theory about the murders by saying that time travel is impossible even with the Midnight Sword, I’m left wondering “impossible as in actually impossible, or impossible as in everyone says it’s impossible but then it goes and happens anyway”?
That issue aside, I enjoyed Death Blows and its many references to the comics of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. This series may have its share of flaws, but I’m still fascinated to see where the next book will take it.
Final Rating: 3/5