Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Reader's Review: "Blood Hound" by James Baldwin

Synopsis from Amazon:
 My name is Alexi Sokolsky: blood mage, occult scholar, and hired killer. Three things that should convey me some immunity in the dog-eat-dog world of the Russian mafia.
Fat chance. In reality, I think too much, drink too little, and if there's one thing the underworld teaches you, it's that there's always a shark bigger and hungrier than you.

Life gets tough after a man turns up dead in our territory, his mutilated body scrawled with demonic sigils. It gets tougher when a key ally of my Organization is kidnapped by a secretive death cult... and I'm the errand boy sent to hunt them down and bring him back.

Then I get captured, nearly killed, and am immersed in a sea of cosmic horror the likes of which I've never known. The stakes are nothing less than the daughter of GOD Itself... and she's calling to me for help.

My name is Alexi Sokolsky: blood mage, occult scholar, hired killer... and hapless pawn in the great game between Everything and the NO-thing trying to destroy it.
My Review:
Well, here's what I can say: I am developing a keen sense of my own tastes for the "paranormal crime solver" genre. From Grave Reports to Supernatural to Dresden Files—I began to notice myself comparing things to these others as I read Blood Hound. And it stacked up pretty well, I'd say.

The hero is a surly Mage, living alone in less-than-stellar conditions and few actual friends. He is forced to work with people who happen to have more social influence and authority (and money, I think) than he does, but they also have less understanding of the parameters of magic than he does, either too afraid of it, or passing it off as "woo-woo." His superiors want him to do what no one else can and solve this problem they have in a very short time, with no concern for his peril as the bad guys seem to have no regard for him as a person, and this are willing to cut him down as brutally as they like if he gets in their way. 
These things seem to be the hallmark of the genre, and Baldwin plays it up well. Where he deviates here is in the culture of his Mage, and thus the whole tone of the book. Where Harry Dresden had Western Catholic roots for his magic system and his perspective, and Vince Graves displays more of the modern Protestant beliefs and mythology (also espoused in Supernatural)—Baldwin does something unique in actually choosing Russian origins for his characters (the Russian Mafia of New York, in particular) and Eastern Orthodoxy/Jewish Mythology for his magic system. (That's, I think, where things got a little weird for my taste: any time the storyline got too deep in the religious aspect, especially in regards to re-constituting GOD—something I have never been comfortable with—it seemed to lose a lot of the drive and appeal, but it always resumed itself once the "dogma" was out of the way) The dialogue and narration are spattered with Russian terms (so fun!) and the social hierarchy and interactions between the characters were so well-done that by the end I think I was practically reading most of it in a slight Russian accent (in my head.)
The mystery, the crime Alexi has to resolve, is a very good one. I found just enough hints to keep me occupied with suspicions as I read—then plot twists would come along and blow them away with a single gasp! I very much sympathized with Alexi; that is to say, I very much enjoyed the characters who were his friends, and very much disliked the ones who were his enemies. 
The magical concepts introduced were very well-done, from the idea of Phi as a magical substance and Phitometry as the working of that magic, to the concept of the Gift Horse and the culmination of Alexi's mission—which, in the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, is all I will say about that. 

With a title like BLOOD HOUND, it should be no surprise that this book is pretty violent. Lots of broken limbs, exploding body parts, and gore in general; Alexi is a hit man, it's part of the job. The deeply religious mythological aspect also produces some disturbing images that did a rather effective job of scaring me. But if you're the sort that doesn't mind that sort of stuff, and you are in the market for a good urban paranormal series to follow, BLOOD HOUND and the rest of the "Hound of Eden" series is definitely one to follow! Baldwin does a very good job at evoking the right emotions through his writing, and communicating the more crazy-twisted parts of the story in the right words so that it is clear what is going on.
That being said, I would give BLOOD HOUND a ****4 STAR**** rating. It's not the best I've read, but it's fairly decent in it's own right, and delightfully unique in its treatment of the classic tropes. Baldwin demonstrates himself as a very capable writer. I would definitely be interested in giving further installments a try!
Further Reading: (Weird Tales/Horror/Urban Fantasy/Breathtaking Thriller)
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd  
-Grave Beginnings--R.R. Virdi 

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