Finished on 1/14/2019
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Military Fantasy,
Similar books: Gemini Cell, Monsters and Men, Tom Clancy
Previous books in the series reviewed: Zip, Nada, Zilch
Recommended Modern Military Fantasy Novel
Do you like reading tightly written books about military men and women doing badass things with magic? If so, then go here.
‘American Craftsmen’ is the story of Dale Morton as he is forced to go on the run from the American government after a rogue agent has taken over the CIA. And by ‘rogue agent’ I mean ‘fortune telling prophet.’ What follows is the story of traditional American values put against the American security state.
Plot: The CIA contains a super-secret organization known as Craft Central. Craft Central’s job is to police the use of magic in the US and beyond- including ordering magical hits on bad actors around the world. Dale Morton is one such assassin, who specializes in magical weathercraft and battlemagic. But after a hit in Iraq goes horribly wrong, he’s forced into an early retirement.
But the government is still watching him long after he’s gone home. To make matters worse, Craft Central has called out a hit on Morton himself- an assassination he barely manages to avoid thanks to his experience working for Craft Central himself. The story continues to develop from there, forcing Dale and his girlfriend Scheherazade to travel around the nation and learn more about the history of American magic.
Characters: Dale was a perfectly satisfactory POV character. He’s dealing with an magical form of schizophrenia thanks to the failed op in Iraq, constantly urging him to kill people around him. This added a decided darkness to the character which I liked.
Michael Endicott was a great POV- a religious zealot who had magical power and supreme confidence in his own abilities and righteousness. When he was exposed to things which defied his notions of how the world worked, he was humbled extremely. I liked his earnestness and his character development.
Scheherazade was the other primary POV of this novel, and in concept I liked her. She and her parents are Iranian refugees who fled to the US after the Shah’s downfall. These days they run a Persian restaurant in Connecticut somewhere. I didn’t like her as much as Dale because she didn’t get as much character development or nuance. She had a large amount of agency, meaning she was in full control of her own destiny, which I liked.
Pacing: Had some problems. The author backloaded too much of the plot reveals to the last 30% of the book. This made the first two thirds a bit boring because very little plot-reveals were happening. Now to be clear the author made the book work due to some readable combat, but the book would have been better if the plot reveals were spaced out better.
Setting: Honestly the best part of this. I liked the concept of a secret magical community which works for the CIA, fighting against Iranian/Russian/Ukrainian/whatever magical organizations from abroad. The author did a good job of making me want to know more.
This book would have been excellent if the author was more ambitious. I wanted more worldbuilding. Here are my two main points.
- We were told about two American Craft Families- the Mortons and the Endicotts were the only two families described, but it was constantly hinted that there were dozens of them. I wish the author name-dropped more of them.
- Scheherazade was supposed to be Iranian-American, but very little about her seemed Iranian culturally. I wanted the author to flesh her and her family out so her personal heritage mattered.
Next, the author wrote the book in a bizarre combo of first person and third person personal. The first person bits were all told from Dale’s perspective, while everyone else was in third person personal. I didn’t notice this until 9/10ths of the way through the novel so it slipped under the radar and thus didn’t really matter from a boots-on-the-ground perspective. But from a stylistic perspective I’m not sure why the author chose this strategy.
I liked Scheherazade, but she didn’t act very realistically. She was WAY too forgiving of all the bullshit going around Dale. Any sane woman would have run away screaming from all the red flags going on around him. Also, towards the end of the novel she was spouting off military jargon with the best of ’em, which was weird because she was never in the military up until that point.
After a certain point Dale’s schizophrenic haunting by the Persian sorcerer just kinda vanished, and the author never addressed why it was gone.
And finally, as mentioned the author kept back too many of the plot reveals for the last third of the book, leaving the first two thirds plot-reveal light.
Net total, this was a good book held back by it’s flaws. While it won’t be winning any literary awards, I had a good time reading it. It had a few plot holes and I would have liked it if the author had taken the book in another direction, but I can’t argue that I didn’t have fun. I think most Fantasy genre readers can read and enjoy this