by John Levitt
Edited by Jessica Wade
Cover Artist: Don Sipley
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015535
Date: 30 October 2007 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Mason is a bar band guitarist... and more.
His best buddy Louie is a dog... and much more.
These two are the core characters of DOG DAYS by John Levitt, a new entry into the expanding urban fantasy subgenre. Is there room in what's become a crowded field for one more? Let's see.
Mason makes a living picking up gigs with local blues bands in San Francisco. It doesn't pay an awful lot but lets him keep a roof over his head. He even manages to avoid the trouble he used to encounter as part of a group that policed reckless or dangerous "practitioners" in the Bay Area.
He gave up that job awhile ago, but it seems someone isn't ready for Mason to retire.
In quick succession, he's magically attacked twice, forcing him to call on his old friends for help. The attacks aren't lethal, and Mason comes to think they aren't meant to be; rather, they seem intended to get him out of someone's way... but why? Louie, his magic animal companion, saves the day but the skill and determination of the attackers is more than they can handle alone.
Mason checks in with Sherwood, a former girlfriend who instructs young practitioners. She convinces him to visit with Eli (his former mentor) and Victor (his former much-despised colleague) to pursue the problem. Mason does so, but doesn't find any answers. Instead, he learns that animal companions like Louie have been disappearing more often than usual. Perhaps, he figures, they know something their human friends don't.
The mystery deepens with the surfacing of strange gemstones and a former magic-poor nobody who's suddenly demonstrating a massive, inexplicable increase in power. What does this have to do with a hidden "fight club", a runaway girl with the power to find anything and a murder or two in the magic community?
Turns out, an awful lot... especially once Mason realizes the true nature of the danger growing in San Francisco. But having given up the life of magic, it's not clear he could win a battle of magic. If he's going to survive, he'll have to fall back on the one talent that serves him in magic and music: improvisation.
Levitt creates appealing, fully-rounded characters in Mason and Louie, giving them a huge challenge to confront in this first adventure. It helps that they have a worthy supporting cast: Sherwood is a no-nonsense presence and an anchor of sorts for Mason, whose night-oriented lifestyle needs that kind of balance. Eli is a former teacher, who compensates for his limited magical talents by obsessive scholarship, while Victor is a very rich man with tremendous skill, no time for foolishness and a cat companion of his own.
Then there is Campbell, a healer to whom Mason turns at a crucial moment. She's a refreshing change of pace from the stock "cleric" of roleplaying games, being a Wiccan who's both practical and generous. Her relationship with Mason is complicated and thoroughly adult (and not in an "adult content" way, either--just that it's got more dimensions than many novel relationships).
On the other side, there's Christoph, a slick weasel who was never a player... until he suddenly shows off powers that should be impossible. His goals and methods come into focus only slowly but make appalling sense once the truth is revealed.
Levitt promises to be a novelist worth watching. Many newer writers, especially when it comes to magic, get vague or nebulous; Levitt's practitioners are very precise in what they do and how they do it, which is very welcome. But his real contribution to the field is how he develops familiars. Familiars are a staple of fantasy generally, but are not as common in urban fantasy (save for stories where the familiar is the hero). Levitt builds a sophisticated world of animal companions, leaving much unsaid and unexplored (e.g., fertile ground for sequels), and does so skillfully. Given that his story is basically named for Louie, that may not be a surprise but he does it very well-- which is a welcome thing indeed.
He also makes San Francisco come alive, as more than just a random assortment of streets and businesses. It takes a lot of work to bring a city's identity to life on the page, but Levitt does very nicely in his characterization of San Francisco as a city of contradictions, where magic fits in quite nicely.
Like in stage magic, there's a bit of misdirection involved, but readers will enjoy the rollercoaster ride through dangers both magical and mundane. Anyone who likes solid storytelling (and is partial to urban fantasy) will enjoy DOG DAYS. Here's looking forward to the next adventure of a guitarist and his extra-special dog.