Chuck Wendig already writes one of the best ‘almost’ urban fantasy novels in the Miriam Black books, so I had high hopes for the Blue Blazes. Unfortunately, this one gets a bit of a shrug. There is a lot to love here, particularly the setting: New York with a giant hell underneath it that is a bit of a cross between a lost D&D dungeon, a mine, and a drug plantation. The interaction between the city and the underworld through it’s sewers, aquifers, and subways, is lovingly detailed and well realised. Similarly, the denizens of the underworld, and the organisations that interact with them, the diggers who hold them off, and the gangsters who mine drugs feel like a real milieu.
Where the wheels fall off is in the main character. It’s laudable trying to build an urban fantasy novel off a straight bruiser, and Mookie Pearl is a character with a lot of strength and limited finesse. But this relegates all attempts to give the character depth to feeling tacked on, and extrinsic to his being. For example his love of high end charcuterie is at odds with a guy who literally shovels his food into his mouth at a buffet.
This is exacerbated by the start of the novel. One of my recurring complaints with later books in a series is that there is a lot of telling the reader about things that happened previously. This is the first time I’ve seen the technique applied to the first book in a series, and if it’s annoying in book four of a series, my goodness if it isn’t the worst in the series opener. There is literally a whole plot involving Mookie’s daughter that has to be explained to the reader multiple times for context, often in authorial exposition that is left to flop around and die on the page.
All in all, a great setting with interesting world building is largely cancelled out by a horrible start and a limited main character. OK, I guess?1