Dominion by Peter McLean (Burned Man # 2)
Peter McLean, I think is a rockstar in this genre. The darker seedier side of urban fantasy - with a protagonist like Don Drake and his snarky archdemon The Burned Man - who are right up there, with say Miriam Black (Chuck Wendig) or the Sandman Slim series (Richard Kadrey). This series starts off in the best possible manner - introducing us to Drake and his pet archdemon in a gritty version of London – dark and violent like no man’s land. And Drake while not exactly a wall-flower, doesn’t really come across as a man you would consider making friends with soon. But for all his flaws, there is something redeemable about this crook who can summon demons from Hell to do his bidding as a ‘diabologist’ and has more to him than meets the eye, at first glance.
I have to warn you that if you haven’t read book-one, Dominion is a sequel and middle-book in a series, following up closely on the events that transpired from the first book. But if you want a swimmingly good dark urban fantasy that would blitz your mind away down dingy, dripping tunnels of London, a seedier underbelly where the supernatural co-exists with humans and where a war is brewing up slowly but surely, between Heaven and forces from Hell that you never knew existed, then this one’s for you. The series has a lot of things going for it, least of which is the brilliantly realized fantastical version of London. The writing is smack-down good, hitting you hard – and the series has some rogue characters you will grow to love and hate.
So after the dramatic incidents that transpire in ‘Drake’, our protagonist/anti-hero Drake has adjusted to living with the ‘girl’ of his dreams, a fallen angel Trixie [who by the way is pining for another angel Lucifer, also shunted out from the pearly gates] and is still addicted to gambling and remains a dastardly coward at heart. Nothing’s changed there. But when Drake gets conned into going underground, below the seedy underbelly of the London tubes, to investigate and contain certain rumours about a monster who can spread plague – summoned by someone for a specific reason, he realizes that the murky waters of this conspiracy run deep. In the meanwhile, Trixie is dealing with her own demons, a soldier in a war she no longer understands, reporting to her superior, this being called the Dominion, whose orders she no longer comprehends. Things get seedier when Lucifer or Adam as he makes his followers call him now, pops up in the neighbourhood with cryptic messages about a war that needs both Trixie and Drake to pick sides. Things go to hell in a handcart after that, no brakes, all cylinders firing.
So Dominion as a standalone story, is a very enjoyable read. Sure, Drake still is an asshole and the Burned Man remains a highly obnoxious jerk but the overall story-arc gets a shot in the arm with the introduction of newer characters – Gods and demons alike. Readers still might get turned off with the sheer amount of expletives in this book but then, that’s Drake for you revealed in his full guts and glory, no filters. Living life on the edge is not just a figurative term for him, it is his life. And hence, the whole narrative, balanced on a thin edge of a glass tightrope, romps along at a fairly good clip. Peter’s writing is magnetic, slams you up against the wall as strange events unfold in Drake’s life, pulling him deeper into a muck he doesn’t want to be a part of. Trixie has a much larger role in this book – and so does Lucifer. Because the evil that is brewing deep down in the abandoned tunnels of London is just a harbinger of bigger baddies about to swoop into Drake’s hapless life.
Pages are filled up with tension and there is no slacking, through and through – which keeps our reading at a breakneck pace. Peter bleeds that tension into the pages and the momentum just ups and ups to a breaking point. We never lose track of the main thread, which is of course the threat of a war brewing and the soldiers picking sides. The gritty feel never lets up and there are flashes from Drake’s past helping fill in some holes in the history of his relationship with The Burned Man. I feel Peter’s writing has become even better, if that’s possible. It’s a like knife sliding in through your guts and just pinning you down, for the length of the book.
My expectations from Damnation now are skyrocketing as I think the series is heading off a cliff for a mid-air cluster fuck. And man, is it going to be interesting. Highly recommended read. I think it’s a criminal offense not to read this one, if you like your urban fantasy.