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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Caitlin Kittredge: BLACK LONDON SERIES

Author:  Caitlin Kittredge
Plot Type:  UF
Ratings:  V4-5; S3-4; H2
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin’s
        "Newlydeads" in My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (12/2007)
      Street Magic (6/2009)
        "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go" in Huntress (6/2009)
      Demon Bound (12/2009)
      Bone Gods (11/2010)
      Devil's Business (8/2011) 
      "The Curse of Four" (e-novella,10/2011)
      Soul Trade (8/2012)
      Dark Days (4/2013)

     This blog post was revised and updated on 5/28/13 to include a review of the sixth book in the series, Dark Days. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, brief summaries of books 1-3 and full reviews of the novella and books 4 and 5: 

          BOOK 6:  Dark Days           

     As the story opens, Jack's long-time nemesis, the demon Belial, asks for Jack's help in taking down a dark power who plans to destroy all barriers between the mortal world, the Black, and Hell. When Jack does a bit of investigating, he learns that this dark entitywho calls himself Legionis an arrogant and powerful sociopath whose plans are even worse than Belial realizes. Legion is fomenting a rebellion in Hell, siphoning off the minions of the Demon Princes and bringing them under his power, along with the Fae and other supernatural groups. The plot follows Jack, sometimes accompanied by Pete, as they track down Legion and attempt to destroy him/it. The investigation forces Jack to ask for favors and/or information from several not-so-friendly past acquaintances.

     When he is on mortal earth, Legion poses as a cult leader who calls himself Larry Lovecraft, an obvious play on science fiction author, H.P. Lovecraft, whose works portrayed a human civilization threatened by otherworldly forces, haunted by guilt, and controlled by fate (which, of course, also describes BLACK LONDON's world). When Jack learns of Legion's earthly name, he reflects on Legion's choice of name: "Lovecraft: the xenophobic twit who conceived of a vast, otherworldly madness coming to swallow humanity whole. Jack gritted his teeth. On top of all his other irritants, Legion clearly thought himself f------ hilarious." (p. 122)

     The story is told in the third person from Jack's viewpoint as he is tossed back and forth between underworld realms and earthly locations, always under attack from various demonic bad guys. When the final climactic showdown  with Legion arrives, Jack is forced to do something he has sworn never to do never to do: make a deal with the Morrigan in order to save the world from Legion's chaos plan. By the end, London has become a very different place, and Jack's future
 has changed dramaticallyboth in the immediate and the long-term. As the story winds down, it gives off vibes of being the final book in the series, but then in the last paragraph, Jack receives yet another threat, so maybe there's another book on the way.

     This series continues to be dark and frequently without hope for the lead charactersand humanity in general. As each book gets increasingly bleaker and more harrowing for Jack and Pete, my love for the series diminishes another notch. By this time, the back stories of the lead and supporting characters are so complex that it's hard to remember enough details to make sense of the characters' frequent references to past events. This book is not one to read as a stand-alone, so I would recommend that if you are at all interested in this series you either read book 1 (Street Magic) or the e-novella, "Curse of Four" just to get a taste for the atmosphere and the writing style.

     In the early books, the Black is the magical section of London, where the time is always just about midnight, and the supernatural creatures gather at the Lament Pub. In that form, the Black is reminiscent of the magical London Nightside that is featured in Simon R. Green’s NIGHTSIDE series. In later BLACK LONDON books, the meaning of the Black expands to include the magical world in general.

     The heroine of the series is “Pete” Caldecott, who begins the series as a detective for Scotland Yard. (You’ll have to read to the end of book 1 to discover Pete’s actual first name.) Sixteen years ago, Pete and her friend Jack Winter, a powerful mage, had a fateful demon-summoning experience that ended tragically. Pete and Jack have a complex relationship that waxes and wanes throughout the series

     One of the high points of the series is Kittredge's talent for describing the gritty streets of London in eloquent images. Here, Jack visits the neighborhood of an old friend: "Peckham echoed the ghost of an older London, one skinny and bleeding, with teeth out of its head, Thatcher in power, half the population drunk, out of work and pissing in the gutter. There was graffiti here, crime, dirt, and the howls of the city...A few badly punctuated BNP propaganda phrases, gang tags, an attempt at artfulness across one of the storefronts that showed a cluster of giant eyes staring down at passersby as they floated on a murky blue-black sea of stars and flowers." ("The Curse of Four," p. 49)

     This is an action-packed UF series with extremely complex leading characters and compelling plots. Even the demon Belial's character has depth, occasionally showing signs of empathy and understanding (but not enough for us to forget that he's a demon). The tone of the series is very dark, and Jack's constant flow of sardonic wisecracks gives new meaning to the phrase "black humor." Each book plunges the reader right into the conflict from the very beginning, and the struggles and strife don't end until the last page. 

     One downer (especially in the earlier books) is the awkward and contrived use of English slang expressions (e.g., blokes, bloody, wankers, sod, git, bugger all), which don't really ring true and are used to the point of tedium. In general, though, this is a great, can't-put-it-down series, which should be read in sequence, beginning with Street Magic. If you begin in the middle of the series, you won't understand a lot of the action, and you won't have a clue about the motivations of the characters. Both Pete and Jack have made many dicey decisions throughout the series, all of which continue to affect their lives in many dangerous and unpredictable ways. Both also develop stronger and stronger magical powers as the series progresses. Jack is a crow-mage under the power of Morgana, and Pete is a Weir, "a channel for the darkest and oldest powers in the Black." (Soul Trade, p. 17)

          BOOK 1:  Street Magic          

     In the series opener, Pete must solve a series of child kidnappings, and Jack reappears, seemingly from the dead, with magically retrieved information about the crimes. During the years of his disappearance, Jack has become a drug addict, and Pete has a tough time reconciling herself to the changes in his life.

     Together, Pete and Jack head into the Black, where they battle villainous sorcerers and a powerful ghost who wants to live again. They also must deal with their own relationship problems.       

          BOOK 2:  Demon Bound             
     As the second book begins, Pete has resigned from the police department. She and Jack are living together and are partners in a paranormal investigation agency.   

     The plot deals with a bargain Jack made thirteen years ago with the demon Belial. That debt, which Jack has kept secret from Pete, must now be paid off, with horrible consequences for Jack. Pete knows that Jack is keeping something from her, and when he takes off for Bangkok, she follows him into yet another dangerous situation.

     Although both of the first two books are written in the third person, Street Magic tells the story from Pete’s point of view, and Demon Bound follows Jack.

          BOOK 3:  Bone Gods          
     Book 3 finds Pete—who is all by herself for most of the book—in search of a killer who is responsible for two murders, a villainous necromancer she battled earlier in the series who is trying to bring an ancient spirit (Nergal) back to Earth for nefarious reasons. When Jack does his mysterious reappearance act once again, Pete tries to believe that he is there to help her, but circumstances soon change her mind. 

     Just as in Michelle Rowen's LIVING IN EDEN TRILOGY, the Malleus (an organization of anti-magic fanatics) is among the villains. The ending is a bit of a cliff hanger that will have long-lasting repercussions on their future relationship.       

          E-Novella:  Curse of Four          
     If you'd like to get a taste of the series, this is a great place to start. You don't really need to have read any of the earlier books to understand and enjoy the story told in The Curse of FourThe novella takes place after Bone Godsjust four months after Jack has kicked his heroin habit. As the story opens, Pete's former partner, Detective Inspector Ollie Heath, asks Jack for assistance in solving the murder of Fiona Hannigan, one of Jack's former girlfriends back in the days when he sang with a punk-rock band and stayed strung-out on drugs and alcohol. Heath believes that magic may be involved in the crime, and he is absolutely correct about that because when Jack visits the murder scene, he realizes that Fiona has been involved in binding a ghost. 

     Jack's investigation takes him back to his former drug provider, a mage named Gemma, who buys and sells magical ingredients, including those needed for ghost binding. As the plot advances, Jack soon learns that he is being set up to take the blame for Fiona's death as well as the murders of three other magic users.  As the climax approaches, Jack is on the run from the police and from a mysterious mage who is determined either to frame him or kill him. Jack knows that a lot of people hate him, but which one hates him this much?         

          BOOK 4:  Devil's Business               
     As this book opens, Jack is on the hit list of every magic-connected group in London. He can't go anywhere without being attacked because everyone in the Black hates him for the chaos he caused when he helped bring Nergal back to Earth in the previous book, even though he did send the monster back to Hell as soon as he could. Pete and Jack's relationship is rockier than it has ever been, and she is on the verge of leaving him.    

     When Pete gets an invitation from a colleague in Los Angeles to help him solve a murder that involves magic, Jack insists on accompanying her because he believes that it is a trap meant to harm Pete in order to get to him. The Los Angeles murder turns out to have demonic connections, and soon enough Belial is back in the picture, demanding that Jack catch the killer, who happens to be yet another a very powerful and evil creature who escaped from hell and must be sent back.   

     This book follows Jack as he tries to talk his way through a series of violent episodes with several really bad guys, all of whom have connections in Hell and all of whom want Jack to join them so that they can make use of his crow-mage powers. In this story, Pete stays primarily in the background, serving as Jack's one and only weakness. As the action climaxes, she is in dire danger and he puts his life on the line for her. The ending leaves Jack and Pete on the verge of another strenuous and dangerous chapter in their lives. The level of violence in this book is higher than in the other books, so I rate it a "5."      

          BOOK 5:  Soul Trade           
     In the opening scene, Pete is on a stake-out in a graveyard on the lookout for a menacing ghost who turns out to be a wraith instead. As she is leaving the cemetery, a group of five pale figures surround her and give her an invitation to a gathering of the Prometheus Club, a group with which she is completely unfamiliar. When she gets home and opens the invitation, a black-inked geas (aka compulsion spell) appears on her hand, and the invitation says that to decline the invitation is to invite death. Jack tells Pete that Prometheus is a group of typically arrogant mages who spend their time gathering power for their own nefarious uses.

     Because the powerful geas won't let her decline the invitation, Pete and Jack find a babysitter for baby Lily and take the train to Manchester, Jack's hometown, where the Prometheus meeting will be held. When they arrive, a seemingly nutty man runs up to Pete on the street, slips a package into her pocket, mutters a vague warning, and is killed when he runs in front of a city bus. Soon, Morwenna, the Prometheus leader, grabs Pete and Jack off the street and threatens them into helping her discover just what's going on in Overton, a village in HerefordshireShe also wants them to track down one of her men who has disappeared in Overton and to infiltrate the ranks of another mage group, the Prospero Society. 

     Morwenna also has some surprise information that is guaranteed to win Pete's cooperation. All the way back in book 1 when Pete was still a police detective, she solved a case involving the serial kidnapping of children by a soul-sucking sorcerer. Even though she caught the villain, it came too late for three children who were left as hollow shells, with no minds or souls. Pete has always blamed herself for not rescuing the children in time, and when Morwenna tells her that the children are in Overton and are in danger, that's all the motivation Pete needs to get involved.

     The rest of the story follows Pete and Jack's adventures in Overton, where they go up against greedy humans, zombie-type creatures, and Jack's long-absent father, Donovan. Here, Pete summarizes the situation: "Something about a void in the Black leading to an in-between place like nothing anyone has ever seen, unlimited power, big bad evil, blah blah blah." (p. 234) That description loosely fits just about every adventure that Pete and Jack have ever had! The final quarter of the story is full of twists and turns, betrayals and double-crosses. As usual, the tone is extremely dark, with Pete and Jack always in danger from forces they don't understand until it's almost too late.  

     In the Epilogue, Belial turns up with a problem that he hopes Jack and Pete will solve for him. When he promises to free Jack from the Morrigan's clutches in return for their help, they take the deal and walk off with him into an uncertain future. Although I love the characters of Pete and Jack, the sustained darkness and unrelenting hopelessness of their lives is starting to take a toll on my interest in the series. Perhaps it's time to give the couple some type of HEA and move on to a new series, particularly now that there's a baby in the family.


  1. There's a short story called "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go" in the HUNTRESS Anthology released just after Book 1.

    Book 4, "Devil's Business" is scheduled to be released on 08/30/2011.

  2. Please see questions and answers for #7 and #8 on the FAQ page for this blog. Thanks.