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Sunday, June 7, 2015


Author:  Jamie  Schultz 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—1  
Publisher and Titles:  ROC
          Premonitions (7/2014)
          Splintered (7/2015)
          Sacrifices (7/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 7/1/16 to include a publisher’s blurb for Sacrifices, the third novel in the series. That blurb appears at the end of the post following an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels. From this point on, I will not be reviewing any more novels in this series, although I will continue to add new titles to the list above and to add publisher's blurbs to this post.

     The story is set in an alternate Los Angeles that is in even worse shape than it is in our real world, with blocks and blocks of falling-down houses and buildings and criminals running rampant. Some people in this world have magical skills—like the series heroine and the series villain—but most are just ordinary street people who have learned to survive by following that ancient saying: "an eye for an eye."

     The series follows the adventures of a gang of thieves in their late twenties and early thirties whose morality lies in a gray (frequently dark gray) area between good and evil. They are led by a drug-addicted psychic, and they live from heist to heist, surviving on the hefty fees they are paid by clients who want something that belongs to someone else.

                         NOVEL 1:  Premonitions                         
TWO MILLION DOLLARS...It’s the kind of score Karyn Ames has always dreamed of—enough to set her crew up pretty well and, more important, enough to keep her safely stocked on a very rare, very expensive black market drug. Without it, Karyn hallucinates slices of the future until they totally overwhelm her, leaving her unable to distinguish the present from the mess of certainties and possibilities yet to come. 

The client behind the heist is Enoch Sobell, a notorious crime lord with a reputation for being ruthless and exacting—and a purported practitioner of dark magic. Sobell is almost certainly condemned to Hell for a magically extended lifetime full of shady dealings. Once you’re in business with him, there’s no backing out.

Karyn and her associates are used to the supernatural and the occult, but their target is more than just the usual family heirloom or cursed necklace. It’s a piece of something larger. Something sinister.

Karyn’s crew and even Sobell himself are about to find out just how powerful it is… and how powerful it may yet become.

     If the weather matched the mood and tone of this novel, it would be raining all day, every day, with occasional rumbles of thunder and zaps of lightning. In other words, this is a dark, dark novel peopled by a small crew of street-tough thieves who are hanging on to life by the skin of their teeth…assisted by some wonky magic and some big guns. Let me introduce the crew:

  Karyn Ames: the emotionally frail leader who guides and protects the group by using her sometimes unreliable flashes of premonition

 Anna Ruiz: the gritty "do-er" who maps out the groundwork, helps out with the fighting, and serves as the crew's public face

  Tommy: a diviner and spell caster who provides the magic

  > DeShawn Owens (aka Nail, aka Doornail): a tough, heavily muscled ex-Marine who provides the muscle and the weaponry skills.

  Genevieve Lyle: another spell caster, who is added to Karyn's crew by Sobell to keep an eye on them and serve as his go-between; she hooks up with Anna

     Karyn and Anna have been friends since high school, when Anna helped Karyn get her psychic skills under control. Unhappily, that control comes from a rare and expensive supernatural drug called blind, which Karyn purchases from a weird woman who lives in the flooded basement of an abandoned house in the worse part of town. When Karyn runs low on blind, her premonitions overwhelm her, layering themselves one on top of the other until she is mentally and emotionally unable to think or actand that's exactly what happens several times in this book, to the detriment of her crew. Here, Karyn explains her situation, "I don't see the future, not in any way that makes sense. I get images overlaid on top of images, all smashed in with the regular world. I can't tell any of it apart, except that most of the hallucinations don't make any sense. Even the stuff that does usually needs a lot of interpretation." 

     The plot uses a double-caper trope involving two sets of villains. In fact, there are a series of heists, or capers, each one going even more wrong than the last. When Enoch Sobell, a sorcerer and crime lord, initially hires (actually, forces) Karyn's crew to steal a magical jawbone from a violent cult, everyone (including the reader) knows that bad things are in their future, even without Karyn's prognostications. The cult is one of those secret-circle-of-secrets tropes, with men in long capes, weird chanting, dark-of-the-moon rituals, human sacrifice, etc. Here Tommy describes the cult to his crew, "They claim deceit is the cornerstone of human civilization and worship a…demon called Zagam."

     The first part of the book drags quite a bit, to the point that I had to force myself to keep reading. Once the major heist gets going (about a third of the way through), the pace begins to pick up and the story becomes more interesting.

     Based on the good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I was expecting more from this book than I got. The premisethe motley gang of magical thievesis terrific, but the follow-through has some bumps. The characterization is uneven, with Karyn (supposedly the lead character) remaining only a sketched-in figurehead. The author reminds us again and again how damaged she is, but that's about all we learn about her. Anna's character is much more developed, but still, we don't get enough background on her or her cohorts. Towards the end of the book, Sobell's character is fleshed out, but early on, he is just a stereotypical bad guy, as is his first lieutenant Joe Gresser (aka Greaser).

     Part of the problem lies in the constant switches in point of viewall in the third person. The author tells the story from the perspective of nearly every character, some with just a few chapters, others (Karyn and Anna) with many. The advantage is that we get the overall big picture, but the disadvantage is the resulting choppiness from the frequency of the switches.

     The plot, although it does have some twists and turns, is not really fresh or inventive. I felt as if I had read it beforeand more than once (the big, bad crime boss, the crazy cult members, the intrepid good guys). Karyn's crew relies on her to let them know when things are about to go wrong, even though Schultz makes it quite clear that Karyn's "talent" just isn't that reliable. All the way through, they always look to her for direction and then get frustrated or even angry when something goes wrong because she didn't see it coming.

     Sometimes it seemed that the author added gruesome details for no real reason other than just because… For example, the scene in which Anna and Karyn go down into the drug dealer's basement to get some more blind for Karyn is padded with details like this: "The mound of rags erupted, fragments flying everywhereonly they weren't rags, and they weren't fragments. They were rats, hundreds of them, from lean gray gutter rats to sleek fat albino pets, red eyes shining in the candlelight, and everything in between." The scene goes on for pages, with lengthy descriptions of the rank smells, stagnant water, moldy walls, and general decrepitude of the place. Although this shows off Schultz's skills in defining settings, it overloads us with details that do nothing to advance the plot. In fact, the entire sequence would have been more at home in a plain old horror genre novel than in the dark urban fantasy that this purports to be. 

     I still plan to read and review the second novel in the hopes that it will fill in the characterizations and have a more inventive plot. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Premonitions in Google Books.

                         NOVEL 2:  Splintered                        

    Anna Ruiz is on a mission: Help her friend and partner-in-crime Karyn Ames break free of the tangle of hallucinations and premonitions that have cut her off from reality. With the aid of her crew—ex-soldier Nail and sorcerer Genevieve—she’ll do whatever it takes to get Karyn help, even if it means tracking down every lowlife informant and back alley magic practitioner in the occult underworld of Los Angeles. 

     But since a magical heist went to hell, the crew has been working for crime lord and doomed magus, Enoch Sobell. Between fighting Sobell’s battles with some seriously scary demonic forces and tangling with a group of violent fanatics who want to manipulate Karyn’s abilities for their own gains, Anna, Nail, and Genevieve are beginning to realize they’re in way over their heads. 

     And now that Karyn’s secret about seeing the future is out, even more unpleasant parties—human and otherwise—are about to come knocking. 

     I tried very hard to finish this novel, but could make it only through the first nine chapters (1/3 of the book). Here's the problem: These characters are so unlikeable and so inept and so disorganized that I didn't care what happened to them. While they squat in the ruins of an abandoned school, Anna, Nail, and Genevieve take turns engaging in long, dreary interior monologues about their horrible lives while Karyn sits in a near-catatonic state that appears to be incurable, although just before I stopped reading, Anna may have found a possible treatment that seems to be available only for a huge price. Even with all of their moaning and groaning though, we really don't learn any more details about their back-stories.

     I think that the point that I knew I couldn't finish this book was the scene in which one set of supporting charactersa gang of magic-using losersturned out to be cannibals. 

     If you read the first novel and are coming back for the second, you'll be getting more of the same, but with a darker, more murky, more convoluted plot. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     This is the last book in this series that I will be reading, although I will continue to update the book titles and publication dates at the top of this post, and I will continue to add the publisher's blurbs for any new books (if there are any new books, which I doubt).

                         NOVEL 3: Sacrifices                         
     Things get a little demonic in the latest Arcane Underwold novel from the author of Splintered

     Thanks to their recent involvement with a magus crime lord and his demonic partner in mayhem, occult thieves Anna Ruiz and Karyn Ames are both stuck sharing head space with a demon. But while Karyn’s possession has had the unexpected benefit of focusing her visions of the future, Anna’s demon is spurring on her darkest urges, and it’s only a matter of time before she acts on them—and hurts someone in the process. 

     To save their skins, the two need to find a mysterious relic. But with their search taking them into some of the darkest places in the arcane underworld, Anna and Karyn will have to ally themselves with a group no self-respecting thief would be caught dead with—the Federal Bureau of Investigation....

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