Book Review Brought to you by Verushka
This crackling series launch hits the trifecta of strong story, characters, and prose. Jesse James Dawson is a retail clerk, a samurai, a redneck brawler, a good husband and father, and a Champion: a demon slayer who fights to free repentant souls from hastily entered contracts. What he isn’t is good with magic, though his wife, Mira, can back him up with some spell casting. While attempting to retrieve the soul of a World Series– winning pitcher, Jesse is distracted by two other Champions disappearing, a stalker trying to run him off the road, and an annoying pest of a demon determined to claim him.
Review (spoilers included in review)
Recently, I’ve become disenchanted with the increasing wealth of cookie-cutter female characters in urban fantasy books – they tend to be more often than not, always good at kicking behind, plagued by some sort of angst in their past and come attached with a love interest that at first drives them crazy until their relationship begins and unfortunately in some cases, lose everything that made them interesting in the first place. This has set me searching out male characters in urban fantasy books – and not Harry Dresden, because I’ve fallen out of love with that series, sadly (and that’s a whole different story).
This is what brought me to “A Devil in the Details” by KA Stewart. This is the first in a series of books featuring Jesse James Dawson. He’s a devoted father and husband, retail clerk and part-time (with a black belt in karate and modern day samurai) demon fighter who fights demons for people’s souls. Those that have sold their souls come to him via his organization – more on that later – and ask him to fight for them with his own soul as collateral. We find that he began in this in order to save his younger brother, Cole, who sold his soul in order to save his dying son. Sadly, we don’t get much more than that about the brothers, other than they seem to have grown apart once Jesse saved him.
As a Champion, he is part of an organization of champions run by Ivan Zelenko, who began the organization years ago. It is Ivan who sought out the champions like Jesse all around the world and tied them together. With him and their Grapevine (their secured database) no champion died without someone knowing who the champion was and what he had done. There is no gloss here, just people brought together and being practical about the job they have chosen to do.
The expectation when you begin this book is one of supernatural, epic fights and in fact, the book begins with Jesse fighting for the soul of the President. He fights and wins and life goes on as normal for the country, but it gives a feel of what he deals with as a Champion.
But soon enough, Jesse returns to his daily life – to the grind of working as a retail clerk, with kids younger than him and to his wife and daughter who he dotes on. From there, the book tries very hard to show that Jesse is a normal guy who just happens to be surrounded by the supernatural and is a skilled enough fighter with a black-belt in karate to take on demons (he happens to have a demon-stalker who wants to be his friend and/or kill him too – called Axel). His wife, Mira, is a witch who casts her own protection spells or location spells in order to help him, but she runs a bookshop as her day job. There are moments when she seems too good to be true, but that doesn’t take away from the warmth and sense of normality she gives Jesse, which is the aim, I think of the novel. We are also introduced to Marty, a welder and his best friend who makes his weapons.
It’s often hard to ground a character in the normal, but KA Stewart does it very well by keeping Jesse surrounded by the routine of his daily life (his part-time work, his family – he spends the book trying to buy a present for his mother and things like dealing with his injuries and his medical bills. He also worries about his financial security and that of his family considering his job. He deals with all of this even as he begins his next case – fighting for the soul of Nelson Kidd, a major league baseball player.
While that case begins, Jesse finds out that a fellow champion, someone he knows very well, Miguel, has been killed. As Ivan travels around trying to find out what happened to Miguel, he remains in constant contact with Jesse, even as his case with Nelson Kidd progresses. As the book continues, we find out that another champion has disappeared and Jesse is again reminded of his mortality and everything he can lose as a champion. By the end, we see how those two cases are linked, in a very unexpected way, for KA Stewart is very adept at keeping things under wraps until necessary.
This book’s greatest strength for me is that KA Stewart has managed to pull off showing how much of a regular guy Jesse is, despite the supernatural surrounding him. However, it is it’s weakness too, for I really did not care to know the details of Jesse’s co-workers in the store he worked at and the other mundane details of his life. Barring that though, I think KA Stewart has delivered a strong character, with a unique voice which can only get better as the series progresses.