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Monday, February 6, 2017

A Plain-Dealing Villain by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order A Plain-Dealing Villain HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Craig Schaefer

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: It's hard to make a dishonest buck in Sin City, especially when a rogue FBI agent is gunning for your head. Flat broke and one step ahead of the law, Daniel Faust flees Vegas and lands in Chicago, where a risky heist promises to fill his pockets with cash.

There are the risks you can account for, and then there are the risks you never see coming, the ones that leave you blindsided and fighting to survive. Daniel is a stranger in a strange land, out of his element and surrounded by corrupt sorcerers, demons, and worse. Still, with a friend's soul hanging in the balance -- not to mention a pile of stolen cash -- giving up isn't an option.

Before he's done, Daniel will descend into the depths of Chicago's occult netherworld, competing in an underground poker tournament where the winner takes all...and with the infernal Court of Night-Blooming Flowers running the show, "winner takes all" has an entirely new meaning. The Flowers haven't forgotten Daniel's past insults, and if they get their way, he'll never leave the Windy City alive.

FORMAT/INFO: A Plain-Dealing Villain is 316 pages long divided over forty-four chapters with a prologue, an epilogue and an afterword. Narration is in the first-person, via Daniel Faust solely and different third-person narratives for the prologue and epilogue. This is the fourth volume of The Daniel Faust series and is the start of a new arc in the series.

January 20, 2015 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of A Plain-Dealing Villain and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a cast of anti-heroes and with a magician con-man as the protagonist, the Daniel Faust series is Richard Stark's Parker crossed with The Dresden Files and set in Las Vegas.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This book is the start of a new arc in the Daniel Faust series as evidenced in the prologue of this book. I believe an informal title could be the "Cheshire Smile trilogy" but I have a feeling that this arc might last more than three books. The story begins with the after events of the downfall of Lauren Carmichael and her psychopath sorceress Meadow Brand. Harmony Black however has had enough of Daniel Faust and his illegal meddling. She makes it her business to obstruct every move of his, making it very hard for Daniel to conduct any of his cons. Forced to survive and pay off a big debt, Faust has to take on a new job away from his regular terrain and takes up an assignment to retrieve (read steal) an artifact in Chicago.

That's the start of this story, however once Daniel arrives in Chicago, he assembles a crew for this job but the process is turning out to be much more Herculean than he thought. The main event is to steal a ceremonial knife however its current owner is someone who's not to be trifled with as Faust finds out to his dismay. He also has to contend with the paranormal crowd in Chicago and we get introduced to another motley bunch as well as to the Chicagoan counterpart to the Tiger's Garden titled The Bast Club. This was an interesting place and after reading its introduction, I was intrigued to know more about it (hint the author explores the club and its owner a little bit deeper in Red Knight Falling which is book 2 in the Harmony Black series).

The plot while starting out as a heist story quickly become much more complex as things go south spectacularly and Daniel has his back to the wall (this seems to be a recurring trend...). I'm being purposefully vague here because of potential plot spoilers and the author really digs into Chicago and gives us a detailed look into it as he has done with Las Vegas so far. We get to see another court of Hell in action and are given an intriguing look into Caitlin-Daniel's relationship. Plus the best part about this book is the poker tournament that is focused upon in the latter half of the book.

I really enjoyed this book and one of the main reasons for my enjoyment was the characterization beginning with Daniel Faust himself. With most urban fantasy series being first-person narratives, it's very crucial for authors to find a distinct voice and keep them fresh. Some good examples which come to my mind are Harry Dresden, Kate Daniels, Frank Trigg, etc. Daniel Faust veritably joins this list and it's all due the author's talent. Faust is a bastard and I don't mean that literally. He's a conman who uses his skills to do things that most of us wouldn't do. He cheats, steals and basically even kills people when he thinks that it will save his life or if that someone deserved it. It would be very easy for such a character to become a villain but it's to the author's credit that he showcases the strengths besides Faust's flaws and makes him hard to pin down. He also has his moral limits and he will not cross them, even his relationship with Caitlin is seriously questionable and I liked how the author introduced some pertinent questions in this volume about it. Which puts his actions at the end of Redemption Song in a whole new light.

The author doesn't just stop with Faust, the character cast in the series has been increased with each volume and all characters that we meet have three-dimensional personas which are very intriguing to read about. Most readers will have their favorites and I'm no exception to it. I would love to know more about Faust's mentors and their backstory, Baron Naavarasi's origin, Harmony Black & a few more. This is another solid plus-point about these books that the characters featured within all have their own agendas and can potentially have their own series (Harmony already has gotten her own). Kudos to the author for developing such a strong character cast as well a world wherein nothing is truly what it seems. And to do it in a urban fantasy series, Craig Schaefer is truly writing an epic which I haven't seen anybody attempt to do in this sub-genre.

The action is this book, is a little bit understated than the previous volumes of the series however the author tips his world-building skills with some fascinating bits of Egyptian mythology. The main villain is also someone who shows a rare depth to him and I hope we get to see more of him. The humor in this book is very much in line with the first two books and I loved the reappearance of two certain lackeys from Redemption Song and their interactions with Faust are hilarious to say the least. The author also gives us a lot more revelations with regards to Faust's past, his family, Caitlin's gastronomical inclinations, and the workings of the infernal courts.

We also get to meet some fascinating Chicagoan characters who I believe add to the depth of the world and whom I would love to see more of (especially Dr. Halima Khoury, & Freddie) . This book does end on a solid climax and that beckons the reader into the next book perfectly. I wouldn't call the ending a cliffhanger but some might feel it's one. Lastly the book also introduces some major aspects of the main series arc that the author is hinting at and from what I can ascertain the author has some truly grand plans in motion. The being introduced in the prologue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these plans. This book also is a first of sorts as the main action is set outside of Las Vegas for almost 90% of the book. While The White Gold Score was also set outside of Las Vegas but it was a novella and was written after this book while chronologically being set much before this volume.

Lastly the epilogue has a major revelation that will be further explored in the fifth book The Killing Floor Blues and I can't wait to see how the author plays up these events. This book also had a fascinating poker plot twist and the author does use it judiciously to play up the climax and then lays out his final plot twist. I loved how the ending seem to come from the left field and the epilogue then further pushes the readers into land of the lost. There were a couple of negatives though, I felt that while the Chicago part of the storyline was very exciting but the other parts didn't quite match its tempo. Lastly the whole behind-the-scenes things that are going on can be confusing to many a reader and I wish that the author could have explained a bit more.

CONCLUSION: A Plain-Dealing Villain is a new salvo in a series that has already won me over and this fourth volume just upped ante with its reveal of the grand series plan in the making. The author just keeps making this series more irresistible with each book and this fourth volume is no exception, give it a read and find out why the Daniel Faust series is the best thing being self-published right now.



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