Curiously nerdy posts.
…I suppose my title wouldn’t catch on so well.
As you might have guessed, it’s time for another book review!
In the last week, I read The Heretic, by Joseph Nassise.
I first became aware of this author when I was browsing the writing subreddit. He was doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything, if you’re not familiar with the site), and had many interesting and enlightening things to say about the process of working as a writer. It encouraged me so much, in fact, that I figured the least I could do was read a novel he had written. Since he himself suggested this one, I went with it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s essentially urban fantasy, and I happen to love that genre.
The basic logline for the book goes like this:
Cade Williams used to hunt criminals as an officer with the Massachusetts State Police, until an encounter with a fallen angel changed his world forever. Now he commands the Echo Team, a special ops squad of modern Templar knights, and the things they hunt are far darker and much more deadly…
Templar bases are being attacked by unknown enemies and Knight Commander Cade Williams and the men of the Echo Team are sent in to determine who is responsible and stop the slaughter. They discover a cabal of necromancers is behind the assaults – and they are allied with the Adversary, the supernatural creature that killed Cade’s young wife, Gabrielle, years before.
Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, but Cade is going to take matters into his own hands and give it his best shot…
Fans of Supernatural, Constantine, and Grimm will love this hard-hitting dark fantasy adventure that pits modern Templar knights against fallen angels and other supernatural enemies. If you like supernatural thrillers or your contemporary fantasy with a touch of horror, this series is for you!
I’d say this is a pretty accurate rendition of the book. The premise is outstanding. I really liked the concept of Knights Templar still existing, and battling enemies of the church, be they small time sorcerors or demons straight from hell. They even get to still use swords, sometimes! The author weaves it together with an interesting string of elements. The Knights work much like a military unit, as you might imagine from the blurb since it mentions an Echo Team. So it feels like a military thriller. But they fight demons, and necromancers. So it’s also urban fantasy, with a mix of horror sprinkled in. And interestingly, and rarely seen, since it’s about a unit of the Catholic church, you also get some religious overtones added in. But to his credit, none of that ever felt particularly heavy handed.
It’s easy to get the feeling that Nassise can take this concept and run with it for as long as he wants.
Okay, so the story and concept is pretty solid. What about the characters?
The main character is pretty compelling, in that “You’re a loose cannon, but a damn good cop”* kind of way. Cade Williams, the title character, is the commander of Echo Team. But as you find out, both by his nickname (see title) and actions, he’s not particularly religious, or merciful. In fact, he’s only in it because he wants a shot at this guy called The Adversary, who killed his wife years ago, and the Knights Templar are his best chance to catch up with his nemesis.
*You know, this isn’t a bad idea for the title to describe a whole genre of stories… assuming tv tropes hasn’t thought of it first.
Beyond him, though, the roster drops off pretty quickly. He has two sergeants, Riley and Olsen (the token “Stone Faced Combat guy” and “Upbeat Computer Expert guy”, respectively), that are his loyal comrades in arms that take a lot of his orders. He has another, Duncan, that he recruits at the beginnning of the novel, and often serves as our story liaison. As he meets and gets to know Echo Team, so do we. Despite how they’re billed at the start, though, Riley and Olson behave pretty much the exact same way: as soldiers that do their job. Which is fine, I guess, but I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more camaraderie between them and other members of Echo Team. Too often, they felt interchangeable and I had to remind myself which guy was doing what.
The villain of this novel has a pretty nice introduction. It’s pretty clear he’s an all around bad guy, as he raises people from the dead against their will and has a cabal of necromancers at his command. His motivations are pretty straightforward, as we learn quickly he’s made a Faust-like deal with demons to go from being a guy that reads Black Magic books at Barnes and Noble to a major league heavyweight with his magic. He just wants power, and will stop at nothing to get it. Unfortunately, after we learn all this, he’s mostly forgotten and works in the background. His minions, the Council of Nine, generally just appear as cannon fodder for the Knights to overcome, and thus we never get to meet the rest of them in dialogue.
As you might expect in a story with Catholic Commandos, there aren’t many female characters to speak of. In fact, I can only recall two. One has no speaking lines at all, and the other is spoilertastic to mention. As such, this book is missing the classic “Boy meets girl” storyline that almost every story in existence has in some form. And for once, I kind of missed having it.
The plot carries it well, though, considering that it’s crisply written and briskly paced. The villains have a clear motivation. The stakes, on a main level and personal level, are pretty big. It even throws in some alternate history of the world which was pretty fun to read. And it introduces some concepts that are pretty cool and inventive. Williams can touch objects and people, and see the last things they touched. He can also enter an alternate plane of the universe (Heavily implied to be some form of purgatory) through mirrors, and speak to the dead. My favorite line in the book is in regards to this place: “I’m not sure God knows this place exists.”
If I have a quibble with this book, it’s that it’s almost too brisk. It could’ve been a hundred pages longer, and added some flavor to certain parts, and been much better. And coming from me, that’s an odd request, as I feel most books I read are bloated. It could’ve stood to stop, lingered, and enjoyed some of the cool concepts it created a little more. As such, right now, there’s not much reason to revisit this novel for a reread. What you see is what you get.
I give this book ***. By my ranking system, that stands for “pretty good, but not really worth a reread”. That’s fair, I think. Maybe the sequels address my issues. I’m strongly leaning toward trying out book 2 at some point, but I’m in no rush to.
Still, if you’re looking for a good quality urban fantasy novel that is very well paced and has some cool concepts along the way, you could do worse. Much worse, as I really enjoyed this book.
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