Nerds and Werewolves: Annie Bellet’s Justice Calling.
The other day, I saw an online ad for The Twenty Sided Sorceress. A little bit of clicking later revealed to me the first book (well, first ebook) was available for free on Amazon, so … well, now, here we are.
This is a bit of a departure for me, to be honest. I’m usually leery of self published books. On top of that, I’m one of those Luddites who prefers a physical book in hand instead of an e-reader. Still, free is free, and I figured I could use the tablet I had laying around for something more than playing Sentinels of the Multiverse.
Technically, The Twenty Sided Sorceress is the name of the whole series- the book/novella/whatever you want to call it that I nabbed goes by the title Justice Calling. The series is centered around Jade Crow (she’s actually a Native American from the Crow tribe, so I didn’t roll my eyes), the titular twenty sided sorceress. The whole gimmick is that, in addition to having a dark backstory, sweet magical powers, and a spirit-wolf guardian creature, Jade also is a super nerd who runs a comic book store in a Idaho college town. In a book about witches and werewolves, this is arguably the most unbelievable part of the plot.
Bellet certainly knows her nerd stuff, as she quotes and name drops everything from D&D to Army of Darkness. Bellet’s (and therefore Jade’s) geekiness comes off as genuine, and yet it doesn’t get grating, either. Of course, I can’t help but wonder what sorceresses and werewolves and stuff would think about playing World of Darkness games, but Bellet doesn’t really delve into the ins and outs of a concept. My guess is they’d play a lot of sci-fi games so they don’t have to worry about offending anyone.
In any case, the little college town Jade lives in is at the edge of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, which means the place is absolutely crawling with various supernatural creatures. It’s a kitchen sink of a setting- Jade’s neighbor is a leprechaun, while her friends are various lycanthropes (referred to as ‘shifters’). Is it still Urban Fantasy if it’s set in a rural area?
The ‘throw in everything! (except vampires)’ sentiment is kind of odd. The fact there’s a whole town full of various supernatural creatures is more or less taken as a given- both to the characters, and also to the reader. I guess Bellet is pretty sure if you’re reading her book, you’re already familiar with the tropes of Urban Fantasy. This said, Bellet’s setting isn’t exactly that deep. Or maybe it is, she just doesn’t go too deeply into the how and why of how magic works. For example, Jade is friends with a set of twin brothers- one of whom is a were-wolverine, while the other is a were-coyote. I guess you get to pick whatever creature you turn into, or the twins’ mom might have some explaining to do.
Anyway, Jade is content to run her gaming shop in werecritterville, until a lycanthrope-cop (the official title is “Justice,” but lycanthrope cop is more fun to say) shows up and accuses her of murder. DUN DUN DUN. Oh, and lycanthrope cop is also ruggedly handsome and can turn into a white tiger and Jade immediately starts thinking naughty thoughts about him because it’s that kind of book. On top of that, someone’s using eeeeevil black magic on Jade’s friends. And on top of that, if Jade uses too much magic, it’ll tip off her evil sorcerer ex boyfriend to where she’s hiding. So, y’know, problems.
If I had to sum up Justice Calling in a word, it’d be “short.” It’s only a little over a hundred pages long on the Kindle app, and a fairly breezy read on top of that. I was able to read the whole thing in just an afternoon. Still, I think Justice Calling could’ve benefited from being somewhat longer, and having more room to develop. The central mystery is wrapped up fairly quickly, and Jade and the Weretiger Cop leap into bed together (or at least onto the couch to play Borderlands together) after only knowing each other a couple days. Admittedly, that’s just as much part of the fantasy as the magic and spells and stuff.
Though really, Justice Calling’s short length is a feature, not a bug. The most popular e-publishing model is based around writing shorter novellas, and putting out a bunch of those instead of just one long book. From clicking around on Bellet’s website, it seems she’s doing pretty well for herself, so good on her. I might check out the later books in the series at some point, if I get in the mood for something different. The books are fun enough, if in a shallow, cotton-candy way.
But yeah. If you’re a fan of paranormal romance and/or geeky stuff, you could do worse than picking up Justice Calling. And since the ebook version’s currently free on Amazon, it’s not like you’re gonna break the bank checking out a new author, either.