Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Black City Saint review

    Richard K. Knaak was first introduced to me during my early days as a fantasy fan with the 1988 novel, The Legend of Huma. I didn't get to red it until I was about ten (1990) but in my limited experience, it was probably the best of the Dragonlance novels.

    When I re-read it in college, my opinion was cemented and if you ever wanted to read the Dragonlance saga then I recommend the two main trilogies as well as it. Later, I would enjoy Richard K. Knaak's World of Warcraft novels which ranged from the cheesy fun at worst to the really-really entertaining. So, I was intrigued by the possibility of him doing his own urban fantasy novel set in 1930s Chicago.

    So what did I think?

    Quite good.

    Nick Medea is a occult detective, which is nothing new to the genre, but one who is very well realized. I can't reveal much about this story since a major part of the book's appeal is the fact it's very cautious about revealing facts about its protagonist. Despite being a first person novel, Nick is very guarded about his past and there's a "shrouded in myth" sort of attitude to the character which allows little bits to dribble down to the reader.

    By the end of the book, we get a full sense of who Nick was as well as how much his life has sucked for his unnaturally prolonged life and I give Richard K. Knaak credit--he managed to strike a very good balance between keeping me in suspense versus rewarding my patience. I don't know if he'll be able to do this in any sequels but I felt the major "mystery" of the novel wasn't any of Nick's cases but who he was.

    Nick Medea is much more Raymond Chandler than Sam Spade. He's a charming, reserved, and pleasant man versus the brutish thug variant of the P.I. Despite this, he's a figure who is bundled with an epic amount of Catholic guilt, appropriate for a saint. Aside from longevity and the ability to perceive the supernatural, Nick doesn't appear to have any special abilities. This increases the sense of danger when he's facing an endless variety of monsters.

    The world the author has created is a mixture of noir detective fiction with fairies and Christian mythology playing a big role. Interestingly, demons don't appear to exist or are important in the grand scheme of things. Instead, the primary supernatural threat appears to be the Fair Folk. Oberon, of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is the big bad of this book and does a surprisingly good job of being terrifying despite his original role as a side character in a romantic comedy.

    Like all good noir protagonists, Nick has severe issues with one particular woman and I was intrigued by his particular curse. I've always been more partial to the femme fatale like Breathless Mahoney versus the good girls like Tess Trueheart. Still, the romantic interest of this book works quite well for her story. Her story is every bit as spoilerific as Nick Medea's so I'll avoid talking about it but it remained intriguing throughout.

    There's a lot of twists and turns with this novel and I definitely recommend it. I think the author could have done a bit more with the mundane side of Chicago during this time period but the atmosphere was still seedy and authentic.


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