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Saturday, February 19, 2011

John Levitt: DOG DAYS

Author: John Levitt
Series: DOG DAYS
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V4, S3, H3
Publisher and Titles: Ace Fantasy
      Dog Days (2007)
      New Tricks (2008)
      Unleashed (2009)
      Play Dead (2010)      

     Set in San Francisco, this series deals with magic practitioners and the various supernatural creatures with whom they interact. The hero, Mason, is a practitioner with powers that would be stronger if he put forth some effort and did some practicing. Mason does occasional enforcement work for Victor, the chief magical enforcer for the Bay Area, but his real love is music. Mason is a talented jazz guitarist and would prefer to play a few freelance gigs than to hunt down and punish misbehaving practitioners. Mason’s constant companion is Lou, who appears to be a dog (a miniature Doberman), but is really an Ifrit. In this world, an Ifrit is a small magical animal that chooses a person with magical powers to live with and protect—similar to a witch’s familiar. (This is not the common definition of an Ifrit.) Lou serves many functions in Mason’s life: defender, finder of lost people and objects, and icebreaker (he’s so cute that people can’t resist him). Lou and other Ifrits play major roles throughout the series.

     Along with Victor and Eli (Mason’s mentor), Mason gets involved in a series of adventures involving practitioners who use magic for harmful reasons. Eli is more of a philosopher than a practitioner—like an expert football coach who is better at teaching the sport than playing it. Victor is Eli's star quarterback—an excellent practitioner in every way (and with an over-the-top ego to match his big skills). Mason is like an on-the-bench specialist. If he worked a bit harder, he could be as good as Victor, but as it is, Eli and Victor call on him when they have a job that calls for his almost unbeatable improvisational skills.
     In Dog Days, Mason solves a case involving missing Ifrits and a power-hungry practitioner who wants to control the magical world. In New Tricks, Mason tries to help some homeless men but winds up opening an energy pool (similar to a portal) that allows some supernatural monsters into the mortal world of San Francisco. In Unleashed, Mason and his friends continue to hunt down the monsters who came through the energy pool, including some vicious shape shifters. In Play Dead, a black (as in black magic) practitioner hires Mason to find another black practitioner and retrieve some stolen materials. None of these adventures is as simple as it first seems, and in each case, Mason is constantly under attack—both magically and physically—and must use his improvisational magical talents to keep himself alive, with a lot of help from Lou.
     Mason has a few love interests but nothing permanent. The most long-lasting of the ex-girlfriends are Jordan, a fellow practitioner, and Campbell, a healing witch.
     This series has a few similarities to Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES in that the leading characters are single men using magical talents in an urban setting, but Harry Dresden is a much more complex character than Mason, and Dresden’s plots are saturated with inventive twists of traditional mythology and supernatural legends.
     Levitt writes this series from Mason’s point of view, and the repetitiveness can cause the reader to skip over numerous paragraphs that are repeated from book to book and within each book: extensive discussions of Ifrits (in every book); many (way too many—we get it!) references to Mason's use of improvisation in both jazz and magic; many references to Mason's huge potential and his laziness in not developing it—you keep hoping that he will put in a few practice sessions and get on with things. The descriptions of San Francisco are authentic and give the reader a fine sense of place: the neighborhoods, the weather, and the famous landmarks. On the whole, each book is a quick and enjoyable read.

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