A few months ago, I first heard of Tom Doyle's American Craftsmen when SFF readers were bitching about the fact that the upcoming novel appeared to be a rip-off of Myke Cole's excellent Shadow Ops series. Being a Myke Cole fan, I must admit that I was intrigued by the cover blurb and wanted to give the book a shot. If only to see if indeed it was a rip-off or not.
I'm glad to report that Doyle's American Craftsmen is an original story and it has absolutely nothing to do with Myke Cole's series. Other than magic being used by the military for covert operations, these two military fantasy series have nothing in common.
Here's the blurb:
In modern America, two soldiers will fight their way through the magical legacies of Poe and Hawthorne to destroy an undying evil—if they don’t kill each other first. US Army Captain Dale Morton is a magician soldier—a “craftsman.” After a black-ops mission gone wrong, Dale is cursed by a Persian sorcerer and haunted by his good and evil ancestors. Major Michael Endicott, a Puritan craftsman, finds gruesome evidence that the evil Mortons, formerly led by the twins Roderick and Madeline, have returned, and that Dale might be one of them. Dale uncovers treason in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks. He hunts for his enemies before they can murder him and Scherie, a new friend who knows nothing of his magic. Endicott pursues Dale, divided between his duty to capture a rogue soldier and his desire to protect Dale from his would-be assassins. They will discover that the demonic horrors that have corrupted American magic are not bound by family or even death itself. In Tom Doyle's thrilling debut, American Craftsmen, Seal Team Six meets ancient magic--with the fate of the United States hanging in the balance . . .
The backdrop of Tom Doyle's tale is that from the very beginning, magic-users have pledged themselves in service to the American government in exchange for protection and secrecy. Magic is known as the Craft, hence the name Craftsmen instead of wizards or other denominations. Interestingly enough, many of the American founding families such as the Mortons, Endicotts, Hutchinsons, and the Attuckses have magical abilities and some rivalries between them date back generations. The history of those fighting families is woven throughout America's history and it's interesting to discover that the Craft was used during the Civil War, World War II, etc.
The weakest aspect of American Craftsmen was the characterization. The poor execution in that regard sort of killed the fascinating concept of the Craft and the founding family. Captain Dale "Casper" Morton is the typical badass American military hero who, unfortunately, doesn't have what it takes to carry such a story on his shoulders. Major Michael "Sword" Endicott, a somewhat devout Christian fucktard, cannot, either. And since the POVs are pretty much evenly balanced between these two protagonists, though there are other POV characters it pretty much garantees that this book remains a failure to launch. There are a lot of cool concepts and fascinating ideas, but witnessing everything unfold through the eyes of these two military men can make for a painful and awkward reading experience. Early on, it seemed that Scherie would help turn things around. Yet very quickly one realizes that she is nothing more than a plot device. . . The dialog is also an issue. Since we are dealing with battle-hardened soldiers, it is often hardass and full of profanities and one-liners.
Tom Doyle keeps the tale moving at a rather crisp pace, which is nice. Although more often than not the reader doesn't necessarily understand what is going on, there is never a dull moment and the author's action-packed narrative keeps you turning those pages. If only he had managed to make any of the main characters more engaging, this could have been a very good debut.
Doyle closes the show unexpectedly with style at the end and the stage is set for a more interesting second installment. Only time will tell if the off-putting and inferior characterization of American Craftsmen will prevent readers from giving it a chance. Personally, though I am intrigued and would like to discover where the author will takes his tale next, right now I'm uncertain whether or not I'd read the second volume. . .