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Monday, August 8, 2011

“A Shot in the Dark” by K.A. Stewart (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “A Shot in the DarkHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “A Devil in the Details
Read FBC’s Interview with K.A. Stewart

AUTHOR INFORMATION: K.A. Stewart has a BA in English with an emphasis in Literature from William Jewell College. She lives in Missouri with her family and is the author of the Jesse James Dawson series.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Jesse James Dawson is a Champion, putting his life on the line for those foolish enough to bargain with demons and fighting to save their souls. But even a Champion needs some downtime, so Jesse takes his annual camping trip to Colorado for some male bonding over friendly games of paintball.

Unfortunately, the fun and war games are interrupted by a pack of creatures summoned up from the very depths of hell by an entity Jesse prayed he'd never see again. With the lives of his friends and a teenager's soul on the line, Jesse's only hope may lie with an even more dangerous enemy—his personal demon, Axel...

FORMAT/INFO: A Shot in the Dark is 320 pages long divided over twenty chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Jesse James Dawson. The plot is self-contained like its predecessor, but contains significant spoilers for anyone who has not read the first book. July 5, 2011 marked the North American Mass Market Paperback publication of A Shot In The Dark via Roc.

ANALYSIS: A Shot In The Dark is a sequel to A Devil in the Details, K.A. Stewart’s tremendous debut. A Devil in the Details was actually my favorite debut of 2010, combining terrific characterization with an exciting storyline to give readers a succulent new entry in the Urban Fantasy genre. As a result, K.A. Stewart had quite a task on her hands with the sequel since reader expectations would be higher. Fortunately, A Shot in the Dark does its best to hit all the major highs of the first book, while giving readers a little something extra to differentiate itself...

A Shot in the Dark opens with Jesse James Dawson fighting a demon two years ago. From here, the book fast forwards to the present day where Jesse is enjoying his annual camping trip with family and close friends. Before long, the vacation is interrupted by the arrival of a demon that Jesse barely defeated in the past. This time unfortunately, the demon is accompanied by an army of hungry creatures. Thus begins the second chronicle of Jesse James Dawson, who must face an enemy familiar with Jesse’s weaknesses and past fears.

In many ways, A Shot in the Dark is quite different from its predecessor. For one, A Devil in the Details was more of a standard UF procedural which made the book predictable because of its genre trappings, while A Shot in the Dark has more of a horror feel to it, especially with the story focusing on a small group of characters isolated and holed up against a horde of creatures intent on murdering them. This was certainly a nice plus point for the book, since K.A. Stewart plays the horror elements to the hilt. Also, the sequel is set in the mountains of Colorado opposed to A Devil in the Detail’s Kansas City setting, which might surprise some readers.

Characterization was a major strength in the first book and continues to be a strength in the sequel, led by Jesse James Dawson. Obviously the star of the show, A Shot in the Dark offers greater insight into Jesse’s life, his fight against demons, his family, and his vulnerability. However, the demon AxelJesse’s friend/enemy—was a major standout for me in the first book and thankfully he gets a bigger part to play in the sequel. Considering some significant revelations about Axel’s role in the large scheme of things, I believe the demon’s presence will continue to grow with each successive chronicle. Other characters who receive a bigger role in the sequel include Jesse’s wife Mina, his younger brother Cole, and his friends.

Even with all of its positives, A Shot in the Dark had a couple of drawbacks. Namely, some unresolved questions at the end of the book and the incorrect usage of the term “Vetaal”, which comes from Indian mythology and refers to vampiric creatures, not zombies as the novel implies. The last is a small issue on my part that doesn’t detract anything from the book itself.

CONCLUSION: In A Shot In The Dark, K.A. Stewart manages to subvert reader expectations with a sequel that is different from its predecessor, but still very entertaining. In fact, K.A. Stewart easily avoids the dreaded sophomore slump, while establishing the Jesse James Dawson Chronicles as an urban fantasy series that I will be sticking with for the long haul...

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