[Book Review] Not your grandmother’s San Diego: Dogs, dragons, and shady dealings

Black Dog Blues by Rhys Ford

Wowza. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed an urban fantasy novel that packed this kind of punch.

Here’s the setup. Kai is a Stalker, a freelance mercenary who hunts down deadly magical beasties for a bounty, in a California where our world and the fae world merged and magic and technology exists side by side. When a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego to set up his own Court, Kai is strong-armed into doing a job for him. It’s supposed to be a simple escort run up the coast, but becomes something so much more as Kai’s secrets, sidhe politics, and family feuds collide.

Looks like Black Dog Blues was Ford’s first foray into fantasy, and it’s a gorgeous, action-packed piece of work. This book hits all the right notes for me. An alternative modern day world that combines high tech with magic, a main character with terrible secrets and a brutal past he’s trying to escape, fast-paced action, dangerous and deadly monsters, vicious plotting, magic, smart dialogue, clever characters, an array of possible romantic entanglements, and some painful questions of identity, family and humanity.

For reasons that are slowly, deliciously revealed in the story, Kai wants nothing to do with the sidhe or unsidhe world. In fact, the only elf Stalker out there, he sees himself as practically human. And that becomes a problem. His attraction with the sidhe lord Ryder is a wonderful foil to Kai’s intense dislike of anything elven and his traumatic history with his kind.

I adored the book. I loved the slow unraveling of Kai’s past and the tantalizing hints amid the explosive car chases and gunfights. I was gushing about it to my reading friends.

But halfway through, just as the first main adventure runs its course, the book loses a bit of steam. The trouble begins, really, as Kai starts getting comfortable with the other characters. As Kai mellows and the romance ramps up, love interest Ryder settles into the overbearing alpha hero role and the story begins to feel more generic.

Truly, had the first half of the book not been so damn good, I don’t think I’d have cared or noticed. But wonderful, angry, aloof, tormented Kai…starts to blur into the long lineup of interchangeable urban fantasy protagonists who hang out in this genre. And that’s a damn shame.

Overall, though, the book doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s the best fantasy novel I’ve read so far this year.

At the end of each read, I ask myself, “Would I read the next book?”

Answer: Yes.

Answer: I can’t wait.

Answer: Absolutely.

And really, isn’t that all anyone ever really needs to know?

The canary verdict

(I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. Super excited to see it’s coming out in September. )

Copy of the book provided for review by the publisher.

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