Friday, 3 December 2010

‘Ghost Dance’ – Rebecca Levene (Abaddon Books)

Sometimes, things just click. I’ve read some of Rebecca Levene’s work, through Abaddon, and while it was entertaining enough to make me want to go back for more there was still something about it that just didn’t work for me. Issues with plot and structure to one side, there was something else indefinable that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I read ‘Cold Warriors’ and it all made sense.
‘Cold Warriors’ showed me that Levene needs to be let loose on her own if we’re going to see her best work. No riffing off other people’s settings, let her run with her own idea and see where it ends; if ‘Cold Warriors’ is anything to go by you’re guaranteed a lot of fun over the course of the read. It’s taken me a little while to finally get round to the sequel but the anticipation never lessened. Levene’s ‘Cold Warriors’ was a book that hinted at a lot of potential for a sequel and for the series as a whole. Having read ‘Ghost Dance’ I’d say that the potential is still there but it hasn’t been realised, yet.

Following the events of ‘Cold Warriors’, Morgan is now with the Hermetic Division full time and struggling to come to terms with his unique status as a man with no soul. His next mission could change all of that though... A top expert on the Elizabethan alchemist John Dee has been killed by a Mossad agent with superhuman powers. Morgan must not only find out why but also seek to advance the interests of the Hermetic Division as the case unfolds.
And what a case this is. There’s an American medium employed by the CIA to investigate a cult where the members can possess animals. There’s also a very dangerous young man who is seeking to escape judgment for his crimes by uncovering the secrets of immortality. Morgan is about to get involved with both of these people in a case that’s only a small part of a much larger war between Heaven and Hell...

Rebecca Leven set up something pretty cool in ‘Cold Warriors’; a world where the war between Heaven and Hell translates almost perfectly into an urban fantasy setting full of spies of intrigue. ‘Ghost Dance’ takes this setting and proceeds to do, well... exactly the same thing as ‘Cold Warriors’. There is no doubt that this is a good thing but taking exactly the same approach again means that, in this instant, we get all the same problems that I felt held back ‘Cold Warriors’. Like I said, the potential is still there, we’re just going to have to wait for the next book to see how it pans out from there...

I don’t mind doing that though if ‘Ghost Dance’ is anything to go by; Levene has once again crafted a tale that messes with your expectations in such a way that you see everything fitting together perfectly, at the end, and wonder how you missed the convergence. It’s very cleverly done and the only loose ends left are the ones that will lead into the next book. However, these particular loose ends did contribute to another ending that felt more than a little flat... You can’t blame it really as the climactic events were always going to knock the stuffing out of whatever came next but I did find myself thinking, ‘oh, was that it...?’ It will be interesting to see if this weakness is still apparent when the books are read in the context of a larger series.

While the ending is a little lack lustre, the build up is anything but as Leven gives the plot a healthy dose of intrigue and action resulting in a tale that keeps you asking questions and then answering them in a hail of bullets or magic. As with ‘Cold Warriors’, the plot can sometimes slow down just when it needs to really step up a gear and really kick on. This time round the obstacle is Alex (our medium) and her journeys into the spirit world. I wasn’t sure if the plot slowing down in these moments was a deliberate thing or not. You could argue that it was; after all, Alex’s steps into the spirit world are very tentative (as someone fairly new to her abilities) and this was always going to slow things down from a breakneck pace to something a little more sedate. I also found myself wondering if these more descriptive passages slowed things down with their flowery language... Whether it’s one thing or the other (and I find myself thinking that it’s a little bit of both) the bottom line is that things do slow down and I found it to be to the detriment of the plot itself...

It is worth making your way through these bits though as Levene shows once again that she can write a mean climactic scene with not only a keen sense of the dramatic but also in such a way that all the main plot points are tied up nicely. Both Morgan and Alex’s characters are well developed (it’s clear that they both have motivations stretching beyond the confines of the book) and the ending offers us a chance to see them both expand further. Morgan’s character in particular is sympathetic enough that I want to be around and see where Levene’s story takes him next. It’s also worth your sticking around for the main villain of the piece. I can’t say too much without giving stuff away but, again, I found it really clever how our villain ties up several parts of the plot.

‘Ghost Dance’ exhibits the same potential as ‘Cold Warriors’ but doesn’t move beyond the flaws of its predecessor to become the story that it wants to be. It’s early days though and it’s not as if we don’t have a thoroughly entertaining story to be going on with here. You can count on my being around for the next chapter and I’m hoping that things really kick on when that instalment arrives.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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