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A review ofSkeleton Crewfollows this summary of the series so far:
In this world, the metaphor for magic is juice (the word is used multiple times on almost every page). The source of magic (juice) is hedonistic mortal behavior (e.g., sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll), so the mob runs gambling dens, brothels, strip joints, and drug operations to encourage this bad behavior. Taggers (graffiti artists) paint tags at these sinful locations, and those tags act as "straws" that the gangsters use to "sip" the magic, drawing strength for their various spells.
The heroine of the series, Dominica (Domino) Riley, was headed for a life of petty crime when ShanarRashan, an ancient Sumerian sorcerer (and the top underworld mob boss of Los Angeles), pulled her off the streets and taught her everything he knew about spell casting. Now, Domino has developed her sorcerer talents to a powerful level and has taken the job as boss of Rashan's security outfit (think Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos + Elphaba from Wicked). Domino is a tough, street-smart UF heroine who can talk the talk and walk the walk of the LA supernatural underworld, competently dealing with all levels of street society, from homeless vagrants to gangbangers to rival enforcers.
In Mob Rules, Domino must solve the horrible murders of two of Rashan's gangsters (they were totally skinned—and there are plenty of graphic details). Domino's investigation leads her into an occult gang war, first involving a rival gang, and then an even more powerful magical opponent.
Along the way, Domino picks up a sidekick named Honey, who is a piskie (think Tinkerbell with a sword), from the Between—a shadow place between the mortal plane and the Beyond. Domino's familiar is a jinn named Abishanizad (she calls him Mr. Clean—bald head, gold earring, etc.), who is bound into Domino's old television. Other modern takes on magic find Domino using Wikipedia and FriendTrace.com as tools for searching out magical information and getting in touch with the dead—no Ouija boards or crystal balls for Domino! No abracadabra either. She uses famous quotations to set off her spells, from such diverse sources as Marcel Proust, H.P. Lovecraft, and Albert Einstein.
Domino has a love interest in Adan, her boss's son, but in book 1, Aden is not exactly what he seems. The sex scenes between Domino and Aden are presented with no graphic details. Humor comes from the dialogue between Domino and the eclectic group of characters, particularly Mr. Clean and Honey. The short story "Retribution" provides back story for Domino.
As Skeleton Crew opens, Domino is attending a grave-side burial ceremony for two young men when, all of a sudden, those same dead men climb out of their open graves and rise as zombies—hungry zombies. Soon, there is a zombie epidemic in Los Angeles, but it's not the get-bitten-and-become-a-zombie kind of plague. This outbreak is driven by magic. The problem is that, for some as yet unknown reason, all the people who die in Los Angeles are not staying dead. It's a vicious circle: The zombies are hungry, so they kill and eat people, and the people they kill then rise as zombies, and the process begins all over again.
Domino's boss is out of town, so she is in charge of the outfit, along with Aden, who is new to the organization. (You'll have to read book 1 to get Aden's back story.) Oberon, the fairy king who was Domino's enemy in book 1, is now ensconced in Hollywood with his queen and his entourage. When Domino goes to Oberon for help with the zombies, he agrees, but forces her to give him more territory in exchange for his assistance. As Domino, Aden, Honey, and Jack (Honey's boyfriend), hit the streets of the real world and the Between world to solve the zombie crisis, they encounter poetic riddles, a Mexican supernatural named La Calavera Catrina, missing psychopomps, barbaric dog fights, swarms of ferocious demons, and, of course, hordes of hungry zombies. Domino spends a great deal of time in the Between, a shadowy land that looks much like the real world, but is really a magical plane where her magical powers work differently than in the real world. She also has fight after fight after fight....ad infinitum. That's the only part of the story that I didn't like. The fight scenes were all the same: multiple paragraphs (sometimes multiple pages) of Domino throwing spells, shooting her magically endowed six gun, leaping over obstacles, hovering in the air, and getting splattered by demon dross. I found myself skipping big chunks of Domino's repetitive melees so that I could get back to the plot.
I enjoyed Mob Rules more than Skeleton Crew. Book 1 didn't have so many endless battle scenes, but perhaps that's because it had of all the exposition for the series (e.g., the initial descriptions of the characters and the world structure). In any case, the snappy dialogue is still strong in book 2, which is a good thing because that's one of the best things about the series. Domino certainly has all of the characteristics of a UF heroine, and Haley's world is fresh and inventive.
Here are a few quotations to give you a flavor for the series:
From Mob Rules, here's a conversation between Honey and Domino at the LA Coliseum:
"The stands were filled with ghosts....They were loud, belligerent and I saw more than one brawl rippling through the densely packed crowd.
'What's with the peanut gallery?' I asked.
Honey shrugged. 'Raiders fans. They're always here. I guess they're waiting for the team to come back.'
'The Raiders went back to Oakland in ninety-five.'
'Yeah, I guess that's why they're so pissed.' " (p. 218)
Also from Mob Rules, here's Domino, musing on her relationship with mortals:
"I didn't go out of my way to hurt people—I just didn't think about them at all. I shared space with them, but I wasn't really part of their world and they weren't part of mine. I lived in a secret world, a world of magic, and most of the time I forgot the mundane world was even there." (p. 250)
In Skeleton Crew, Domino explains her busy schedule to a pair of federal agents who have an acronym for every supernatural disturbance. They're calling the zombie outbreak a CMI (Critical Metaphysical Instability), and they want Domino to solve the problem ASAP:
"Okay, guys, I'll try to hurry. I have other things on my to-do list you know."
"Well, right now, I've got to clear some f***ing zombies out of another hospital. Maybe you can help with that, it'll go a lot faster. Then, I've got a gang war that just went hot. I've got to make sure that doesn't blow up and put a lot more zombies on the street"
"Is that all?" Granato said, smirking.
"No, Granato, it's not—thanks for asking. I've also got a party to go to tonight, and I haven't even decided what to wear." (p. 46)