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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

“Dead Men’s Boots”, “Thicker Than Water” and “The Naming of the Beasts” by Mike Carey (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Mike Carey Website
Order the Felix Castor novels HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Extracts HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Reviews of “The Devil You Know” + “Vicious Circle

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mike Carey is best known for his comic book work including the Eisner-nominated horror/fantasy series Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Sandman Presents. Recent, current and upcoming comic book projects include Ultimate Fantastic Four, Crossing Midnight, X-Men: Legacy, Coalition Comix, The Unwritten, Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, etc. Mike is also the author of the Felix Castor novels, has penned two screenplays for Hadaly Pictures in “Frost Flowers” and “Red King”, is working on The Stranded TV series for Virgin Comics/SciFi Channel, and has a short story collected in the “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” anthology.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Felix Castor books are a series of urban fantasy novels set in contemporary London and narrated in the first-person by Felix Castor, an exorcist who specializes in ‘spiritual services’—setting up wards against the dead, dispersing ghosts who are disturbing the peace, determining whether a person is still alive or not, talking to the dead, and even attending kids’ parties ;).

Besides Felix, the cast includes his friend Pen; another friend in Rafi who is possessed by a demon from hell; a succubus named Juliet Salazar gone native, Juliet’s lover Susan Book, the conspiracy-theorist zombie Nicky, Detective Sergeant Gary Coldwood from the Metropolitan Police, Felix’s older brother Matt who is a priest, a zombie faith-healer known as the Ice-Maker, Jenna-Jane Mulbridge, director of the Metamorphic Ontology Unit; and the Anathemata Curialis—a secret excommunicated militant branch of the Catholic Church that opposes the forces of darkness.

The first three novels are primarily self-contained, revolving around a central mystery that involves the supernatural (ghosts, zombies, demons, were-beasts, etc). An overarching theme exists however, that deals with why so many dead are now rising and where this is all leading to, so even though Mike does a superb job of recapping events and supplying the reader with all of the information they need in each book, I would still recommend starting from the beginning, especially with the way volume four plays out.

Unlike most current urban fantasy series, there is very little romance or humor to be found in the Felix Castor novels. Instead, the books are of a more darker and grittier tone with the paranormal elements bordering on horror and the mysteries heavily influenced by detective noir, which also gives what humor is present a more sarcastic bite. Highly recommended to fans of Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt Casebooks, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, and Hellblazer...

DEAD MEN’S BOOTS ANALYSIS:Dead Men’s Boots” is the third Felix Castor novel after “Vicious Circle” and “The Devil You Know”. Like the previous volumes, the book finds Felix dealing with several different issues that may or may not be connected. In this case, there’s the suicide of a fellow ghostbreaker (exorcist) who leaves a message for Felix; a wife who hires Felix to clear her husband’s name of murder; a Chicago mob femme fatale who seemingly continues to kill decades after her execution; and the legal fight for Rafi’s power of attorney. Aiding Felix in his latest escapades are Juliet, Nicky—one of my favorite characters—and the demon Moloch who drops some tantalizing hints about ‘the great project’ and why the dead are rising with increasing volume.

Compared to the other two Felix Castor novels, I would rank “Dead Men’s Boots” right up there with “Vicious Circle” with the plot, Mike’s inventiveness—were-creatures who can organize themselves as a colony for example—and some really cool action scenes involving Juliet & Moloch the highlights of the book. I also thought the mystery elements were better handled this time around and less predictable, but the novel suffers from following the same formula as the other two, and I felt the ending was a little too Hollywood-esque with the way everything was wrapped up. Nevertheless, “Dead Men’s Boots” is another delightful and engaging entry in the Felix Castor series...

THICKER THAN WATER ANALYSIS: The fourth Felix Castor novel starts out with a bang—the liberation of Rafi from the Charles Stanger Care Facility under the nose of Jenna-Jane Mulbridge, told in a clever departure from Felix’s usual first-person narrative. From there, “Thicker Than Water” follows the same formula as the other Castor novels—a tangled supernatural mystery comprised of seemingly unrelated parts—but with some significant differences. For one, the case is personal this time, revolving around an old childhood acquaintance who was brutally attacked with razors and Castor’s name written in blood. Also involved somehow are Felix’s brother Matt, the Anthemata, a zombie who is following Castor, stigmatas, and a haunted housing district. Throw in great roles played by regulars Juliet, Nicky, Rafi/Asmodeus, Coldwood and Sergeant Basquiat as well as a couple of new faces; some compelling childhood flashbacks that shed further light on Felix and his strained relationship with Matt; and the series’ most jaw-dropping twists and revelations yet including one hell of a cliffhanger; and “Thicker Than Water” has all the ingredients for being the best Felix Castor novel to date...

THE NAMING OF THE BEASTS ANALYSIS: The fifth Felix Castor novel had the unfortunate task of following in the footsteps of what I strongly believe is the best volume in the series thus far (Thicker Than Water), but “The Naming of the Beasts” was up to the challenge, mainly because the book revolves around an escaped Rafi/Asmodeus and the carnage/horror trailing in the demon’s wake. Of course, with any Felix Castor novel there’s always other stuff happening and “The Naming of the Beasts” is no exception. So besides the threat of Asmodeus hanging over Felix, Pen and anyone else close to Rafi, there’s something strange happening to the succubus Juliet, an unlikely alliance with Jenna-Jane Mulbridge and the Metamorphic Ontology Unit, a deadly haunting puzzling MOU’s finest, the mystery of bizarre summoning stones, and even the blossoming of a romance. Character-wise, most of the cast make appearances in the book including 500-year-old ghost Rosie Crucis, but the main players are Felix, Juliet, Rafi/Asmodeus, Nicky, Dr. Mulbridge, Gil McClennan—the nephew of a ghostbreaker that Felix inadvertently killed a while back—and exorcist Trudie Pax who was introduced in the last novel. The book’s mysteries aren’t as compelling or hard to decipher this time around, nor are the revelations as shocking as before, but because of Asmodeus’ presence and the final showdown between Felix and the demon, “The Naming of the Beasts” is another fantastic read and rates just a shade below “Thicker Than Water”...

CONCLUSION: Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels are something special and I’ll give you three reasons why. One, the writing is just brilliant with each volume jam-packed with vividly descriptive prose, witty dialogue, clever phrases (arterial swansong, essence-of-succubus, flaccid shenanigans) and some of the best similies/metaphors I’ve had the pleasure of reading: “it hung in the ether like Morse code, discontinuous but replete with meaning”; “booze has always been my sledgehammer of choice when I want to throw a tarp over the day and pass out fast”. In truth, I would recommend the series for the writing itself, but fortunately there’s much more to the Felix Castor books including reason number two: the characters. Dynamic, multifaceted, and full of personality, Felix and company are a joy to follow because they feel like real people that you can actually care about. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Mike’s books possess remarkable depth which applies to both the aforementioned characters and prose as well as dense plotting and highly creative supernatural elements that have their own scientific logic. In other words, reading most urban fantasy nowadays is like watching a movie trailer on your computer—short and fun, but unsatisfying—whereas the Felix Castor novels offer the full IMAX experience.

Granted, the series isn’t without its problems like the similar blueprint each book follows or the tiresome reiterations of the same information over and over, but these are minor problems when compared to the whole. In the end, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels are simply one of the best urban fantasy series on the market today...


David Murdoch said...

There are real exorcists who fight against evil spirits. Some of them have very interesting stories.

Here for example:

God Bless,

Robert said...

Thanks for the heads up!

Harry Markov said...

It looks like you really loved these books and your enthusiasm is contagious as ever. Lovely. I am now adding these to my TBR.

Robert said...

As far as urban fantasy goes, Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels are probably my favorite :) So yeah, I do love them!


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