Seth Skorkowsky is one of the most promising fantasy writers I've read in the past decade. He has managed to create top quality urban fantasy in the Valducan series and exceeded that in the Tales from the Black Raven stories. While I prefer the latter, I was a day-one purchaser for this latest volume of the Valducan series.
The premise for the books is that the world is infested with demons. These spirits possess human beings and transform them into vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of darkness. Opposing these creatures are the Holy Weapons, those objects which have been empowered with more powerful demons that prey on these creatures. Each novel chronicles one Holy Weapon and their wielder, the latter of whom are often obsessed to a near-romantic level with their object.
This novel follows a woman named Victoria Martin who, after a chance encounter with demons, ends up a disgraced and jobless. Encountering Valducan agent Allan Havlock, keeper of the sword Ibenus, she becomes enamored with the organization and decides to become a member. Unfortunately, this is after she's started working with a hacktivist named Tommy D who intends to expose the Valducan group to the world. Her loyalties will be tested and, ultimately, irrevocable choices made as Ibenus prepares its next wielder.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book and while I would prefer another Matt Hollis book, I think this provides an excellent insight into how the Valducan group works as well as its recruiting methods. We also get some insight into the gender politics of the organization as Victoria is used to dealing with a boys network and is somewhat off-put with her ill-advised attempts to bond with the other female demon hunters in the group.
I also liked how the group tried to deal with the fact new wielders would invariably think the organization was filled with fanatical cultists if they hadn't yet encountered monsters. The best part of the novel, for me, was the following of recruit Gernhard as he tried to deal with the fact he was spiritually bonded with a supernatural weapon but wasn't a believer in monsters. Honestly, I found his story somewhat more compelling than Victoria's.
Unfortunately, I feel Victoria's story suffered because a lot of it was truncated with the excuse of Ibenus magically bringing her around to its way of thinking. She is skeptical of the Valducan group until she's not. She's only vaguely interested in Allan, until she's in love with him. Also, she loses all sympathy from me toward the end where her morality has warped into something resembling a terrorist.
Given my own RL politics about government secrecy and lying to the public, the ending where Victoria embraces the idea it's better to murder people to cover up the demon wars going on around her makes me believe she deserves to be put down like a mad dog. Somehow, I don't think that was what Seth Skorkowsky was going for even though I think it makes a fine story about corruption and fanaticism.
Indeed, I'm very much on the side of the antagonist in this novel (I refuse to use the term villain). Tommy D wishes to expose the world to the truth of the horrors filling the world and the organization which is waging a clandestine war behind the scenes. While horrible consequences follow his quest, I tend to chalk that up as much to the Valducan as otherwise. Indeed, the ending pretty much validates all of Tommy D's fears.
Either way, the Valducan series is a fine one with lots of action and deep character development. While it suffered here due to the use of the Holy Weapons as a narrative shortcut, I still enjoyed this volume tremendously. Fans of the previous volumes will enjoy this and newcomers won't be lost.