Incarnate by Anton Strout

Incarnate (The Spellmason Chronicles, #3)Incarnate

by Anton Strout

Mass Market Paperback, 320 pg.
Ace, 2014
Read: October 11 – 15, 2014
And here we are at the end of The Spellmason Chronicles (following Alchemystic and Stonecast). So the big question for me going into this (aside from how would Lexis and Stanis clean up that mess from Stonecast?) was: could Strout stick the landing — his other series was just canceled, leaving things open (and I’m still curious about it), this was a planned conclusion, so how’d he manage it? I’m not at all surprised to say, pretty well.

First off, Strout really expands his world here — there’s a lot more magic, magic users and the like than he’d shown before (it was there before, but we hadn’t seen it as much). There’s some new characters I’d like to spend more time with — Fletcher seems really interesting, and the NYPD detectives Maron and Rowland need to run into Simon Canderous and Connor Christos.

Lexi’s a lot more confident in her abilities — which have grown since we saw her last — and driven in a very Peter Parker-y way. She’s a lot more than the would-be artist we meant a couple of books ago. Similarly, her pals Rory and Marshall have grown a good deal — I like the development of them both. Marshall’s is on the one hand surprising (as Lexi’s and Rory’s reactions attest), but on the other is a lot more believable than Rory’s. But with Rory, her continued growth into Lexi’s go-to fighter is pretty fun, and as long as we’re buying the whole Spellmason thing, we might as well buy into Rory the super-hero.

Stanis has his hands full trying to track down stray grotesques like himself, help them understand what’s going on with them and give them a place of safety and refuge — particularly as the threat of a group of grotesques who are out to use their strength, abilities and invulnerabilities against humanity. The more we learn about the leader of the other group, the worse it gets. I don’t want to get into spoilers here, but the Big Bad in Incarnate here is probably the worst villain that Strout’s come up with yet.

Throw in interference from the magic community (who aren’t happy at all that muggles are seeing flying statues in the Big Apple), notice of — and pursuit by — the NYPD, and Lexi and her gang have more than their hands full. Which makes for a good time for the readers.

That said, Strout stumbles a couple times with this. In the opening chapters, the dialogue is a little stilted, a little awkward. Which is really unusual — this is typically Strout’s strong point. But to me, a lot of the dialogue was very thinly veiled exposition. Not quite as bad as, “Hey Rory, my blue-haired best friend since childhood, dance student and resident ass-kicker, could you please pass me my great-great-great-grandfather’s spell book, the one I just inherited a couple of months ago when I started manifesting the abilities of a Spellmason?” But it felt close. By chapter 4 or 5, that mostly disappears, and if not for the notes I’d taken I’d probably have forgotten it.

There was a lot more blood than I expected here — not that this was really gory at all, and all of the nasty stuff happened off-screen (if you will), and our heroes either came across it after the fact or in photographs. So there’s a lot of blood and some dismemberment — but even the more squeamish readers should have no problem with it.

And, like Stonecast, this is a little too short. I could’ve used more Rory and Marshall (together or on their own). We hit the big “Boss Battle” a bit abruptly, I thought. Also, the last chapter is rushed. It felt like one of the alternate endings to Wayne’s World (there’s a relevant pop culture reference, for ya) — a series of conclusions for each character one after the other, bam, bam, bam. Given everything he tried to accomplish in those last few pages, the importance and scope involved, I just think it could’ve used a bit more breathing room.

I realize my negatives are longer than my positives — but that’s because I can talk about them with a bit more detail than all the cool stuff that happens, which pretty much involves spoilers. The good far outweighs the nits I may want to pick. All things considered, it’s a solid conclusion to a pretty good series. Good character development throughout, leaving most of the characters in places that will please and satisfy fans (I, honestly, would’ve preferred something a little less happy and a little more incarceration-y for Caleb). I don’t know if Strout has plans in this direction, but he leaves things in a place that he could come back and tell more stories in this world, and with these characters with no problem. Or he could leave them alone with no problem. Which is a nice place to leave a series.

Whatever Strout has planned next, I’m looking forward to it.


4 Stars

Stonecast by Anton Strout


by Anton Strout
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pg.
Ace, 2013

Stonecast was not as fun as it’s predecessor, Alchemystic, but it’s designed to be a that way (still fun, and occasionally funny, however). Lexi’s still trying to figure out how to deal with this new reality she’s found herself in — magic exists, she’s a Spellmason (at least an entry-level and self-taught one) — but now the stakes are higher — her brother and a centuries-old dictator are gunning for her, and have taken her guardian gargoyle captive. She knows that she only has a little while before they’re going to come back to finish what they started last time, and she needs to figure out as much as she can before that so she can defend herself. So where Alchemystic had a feel similar to the hero-discovering-his/her-power montage from recent super-hero movies, Stonecast‘s feel is closer to that of an A-Team or MacGuyver episode where they’ve only got a little time to throw together some way to take down the bad guys.

Spellmasonry isn’t the only supernatural game in town, as we all (including the characters) assumed last time out, and Lexi and her friends get introduced to some of that expanded universe — they meet an alchemist, the representative of an expansive group that studies the supernatural, and see the results of other magic user’s work. Along those lines, Strout also gives us a cameo that points to a whole lot more supernatural activity in their world.

Both of these characters are working off their own agendas, which don’t necessarily line up with Lexi’s, and neither she nor the reader are really ever sure what their angle is. Which leads to something like a two-front war she has to wage — I guess it’s more of a single-front war with a strong possibility that at least another front will open up at any moment. Which is good for dramatic tension, good for the reader, but bad for Lexie.

Stanis, on the other hand, has his hands full — his father (the aforementioned dictator) is trying to bend the gargoyle to his will, and is using methods that the Geneva Conventions would frown on. He’s also dealing with the severing of the bond between himself and the Belarus family, after all this time that’s a difficult transition. By the end of Stonecast, he’ll have even bigger problems to deal with.

The biggest problem with this book is space — it’s just not long enough. We need to see more of the effort that Lexi’s putting into preparation for the return of Kejetan; we need to see more effort that Lexi and her alchemist sensei are putting forth to build up her abilities — and the relationship between the two of them felt too rushed throughout. And thanks to the alchemist, we don’t get nearly enough time with Rory and Marshall this time out — yes, Lexi explains shutting them out for their own protection, so it holds up narratively, but Shaggy without Fred and Daphne just isn’t as fun. I did like Marshall’s development towards the end of this book, but Rory might as well not have been mentioned. We just needed more detail, to see more of the struggles in general.

Still, on the whole, I really enjoy this world, and enjoyed the book — and what’s set up for Spellmason Chronicles #3 has me really looking forward to reading it.


4 Stars

Dusted Off: Alchemystic by Anton Strout

Alchemystic (The Spellmason Chronicles, #1)Alchemystic

by Anton Strout
Mass Market Paperback, 290 pg.
Ace, 2012

Yay! Been waiting for this one for too long. Sure, I’d prefer a new Simon Canderous novel, but this makes up for it.

This isn’t a conventional UF–your three human heroes are definitely not run-of-the-mill, which is nice; they’re all likeable, which is nicer. You want to spend time with them, you want them to come out on top, you want the giant, nigh-humorless and nigh-invulnerable, living statue to come to their rescue. Which works out for everyone, because that’s what the statue wants, too.

Stanis, the statue–gargoyle–in question here is a pretty nice character, too. Can’t get into all of it without entering spoiler territory, but for a superhero that gets, but doesn’t totally get, these odd humans, he’s pretty fun.

That’s a good description for the whole book–pretty fun. Not as intense, or dark and brooding, as a lot of UF. But a nice, fun, character-driven read. Good ending that’s not quite a cliff-hanger, but whets the appetite for volume 2.


4 Stars