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Dead Man's Deal: The Asylum Tales by Jocelynn Drake
Cover Artist: Don Sipley
Review by Drew Bittner
Harper Voyager Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062117885
Date: 07 May 2013 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Gage Powell thought he had problems. His girlfriend is on the run from the elves' Summer Court. His best friend is stuck working for a dark elf mobster, who's pulled Gage into his seamy business as well. And now...well, now things are hitting even closer to home.

In Dead Man's Deal, author Jocelynn Drake picks up where Angel's Ink left off--with Gage running a successful tattoo parlor in Low Town. He's keeping a low profile himself after escaping the Ivory Towers ten years ago, but the magical world will not let him live in peace.

A dark elf named Reave has maneuvered Gage into working for him, a situation that the young warlock finds increasingly intolerable. Even though he didn't finish his studies at the Ivory Towers (where live and work the world's wizards and witches), he's got the ability to devastate a neighborhood; naturally it grates when a two-bit Mafia punk is pulling his strings. After an assignment goes wrong, Gage decides he's getting out and taking his friend, the troll Bronx (who also works in the tattoo parlor) with him.

Meanwhile, Gage's girlfriend Trixie--who's been hiding from her family for centuries--discovers nobody can hide forever. She has to deal with the situation that made her run in the first place, which puts Gage in deep trouble. He's going to have to negotiate with some very angry elves, and figure out what he can trade for Trixie's safety, if she's going to remain free.

It might sound like this is a lot for anyone to handle. But wait, there's more. Reave has gotten hold of something so big, it is inevitable that the Ivory Towers will come after him. He wants Gage to safeguard it--but when he learns what that means, Gage realizes that getting free of Reave isn't just a good idea. Now it's become a matter of saving the world from one dark elf's stupidity.

Along the way, Gage must revisit family issues he had managed to bury and confront the person he was--including all the mistakes he made--in order to become the person he wants to be. All he has to do is save his girlfriend, protect someone he never thought he'd see again against all odds, and then save the world. Easy, right? Not even magic can make these problems vanish...

Drake's second Asylum Tales is a no-holds barred thrill ride stop to finish. Where other urban fantasies might seem tentative in their world-building, holding things back for sequels, Drake seems to take amazing delight in unleashing everything her fertile imagination can craft all in one go. It's a remarkably complex world, full of age-old enmities, where humanity lives in fear of the Ivory Towers' wrath; despite an overwhelming advantage in numbers, the Towers are not only hidden, but their occupants have the power to obliterate nations. Any battle would be decisive--and not in humanity's favor.

Even worse, warlocks and witches are raised to be cruel, killing as often for pleasure as for purpose. Gage rejected that life years ago, breaking one of his own rules to get free, and now is subject to the crushing "oversight" of Gideon, a warlock with his own agenda and his own problems. Originally an antagonist, Gideon here evolves into a more nuanced position vis--vis Gage, which makes their interactions fascinating and unpredictable.

Gage is vividly realized, a young guy whose decisions have echoed over the past decade, and his friends are a superlative supporting cast, from Bronx the stolid troll buddy to Trixie the glamour-disguised elf to Sofie the cat. Drake invests all of them with as much personality as she can squeeze onto the page, which is saying something.

But having personality doesn't mean much if the problems are not truly overwhelming. Heroes can only be measured by what opposes them, and Gage is opposed by truly gigantic enemies. Beyond the White Towers--which want him dead--he has to figure out what's happening inside the Summer Court of the elves (a process that turns up some shocking revelations) and how he can fix it, even if that involves dealing with entities far above his pay grade. (By the way, his friend and mentor Chang is perhaps one of the most delightful characters to come out of urban fantasy in a long time.)

There's no victory without paying a price. Gage pays, heavily, and fights to his last breath for a goal that may be impossible; however, every reader is sure to be on his side right up to the last page.

Readers looking for a strong, original voice in urban fantasy will be well rewarded by checking out Jocelynn Drake's work. We'll be looking forward to the next novel.

Highly recommended.

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