Broken Souls

You may recall that I discovered the Eric Carter sequence in a Daw Books Facebook post last fall. Somehow, up until that point I had never heard of Stephen Blackmoore. Long story short, the kind folks at Daw hooked me up with a copy of Dead Things and I immediately knew that I'd be reading the rest of the series.

If you're like me, with any new urban fantasy series featuring a male lead, I'm always worried that it will end up being a Dresden clone. So I'm pleased to report that three books into this series, although there are similarities between Butcher's Dresden Files and this one, such as a powerful mostly self-taught young magic-user with ex-girlfriend issues, with few friends and plenty of enemies, and with untapped power levels that he is unaware of, who has come to the attention of higher beings who may seek to recruit or kill him, Eric Carter is no Harry Dresden. Like its predecessor, Broken Souls may read like the episodic early Dresden Files installments, yet Blackmoore's novels continue to read more like paranormal and gritty noir murder mystery works than anything else. Again, expect more blood and gore and a somewhat engaging protagonist, but not as endearing as Harry Dresden. Not yet at least. Eric Carter is slowly growing on the audience, but he remains a good-hearthed asshole with a knack for turning every bad situation into a worse one.

Here's the blurb:

Stephen Blackmoore’s dark urban fantasy series follows necromancer Eric Carter through a world of vengeful gods and goddesses, mysterious murders, and restless ghosts.

Sister murdered, best friend dead, married to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte. Necromancer Eric Carter’s return to Los Angeles hasn’t gone well, and it’s about to get even worse.

His link to the Aztec death goddess is changing his powers, changing him, and he’s not sure how far it will go. He’s starting to question his own sanity, wonder if he’s losing his mind. No mean feat for a guy who talks to the dead on a regular basis.

While searching for a way to break Santa Muerte’s hold over him, Carter finds himself the target of a psychopath who can steal anyone’s form, powers, and memories. Identity theft is one thing, but this guy does it by killing his victims and wearing their skins like a suit. He can be anyone. He can be anywhere.

Now Carter has to change the game — go from hunted to hunter. All he has for help is a Skid Row bruja and a ghost who’s either his dead friend Alex or the manifestation of Carter’s own guilt-fueled psychotic break.

Everything is trying to kill him. Nothing is as it seems. If all his plans go perfectly, he might survive the week.

He’s hoping that’s a good thing.

As mentioned in my previous review, what I probably hate the most about urban fantasy works is that the market demands that they be short and relatively fast-paced reads. Which means that the first few volumes of any series in this subgenre are always stingy on the worldbuilding front. That facet is usually built upon with each subsequent novel, sometimes reaching amazing and unanticipated heights. It's too early to tell whether or not this aspect of the Eric Carter series will echo with the sort of depth that has come to characterize urban fantasy series by authors such as Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green, but it looks good thus far. In Dead Things, Blackmoore did a good job explaining how necromancy works and how Carter can use his powers. The same could be said for his surprisingly powerful magical toys. Trouble is, and that was to be expected, very little was said about how the magical world at large and the theology underpinning it actually work. Making the death goddess Santa Muerte, patron saint of the Narcos, part of the story would likely have important repercussions down the line. The author is more generous with his revelations this time around and it's obvious that having Mayan and Mexican cultural influences add new dimensions to the series mythology and might give the Eric Carter books a somewhat unique flavor if Blackmoore keeps at it. Time will tell.

As I said before, as a do-gooder at heart but with a knack to see most of what he touches turn to shit, Eric Carter is an easy protagonist to root for. Once again, he's a foul-mouthed smartass who gets beaten to a pulp way too many times in the span of such a short novel, but there is still something about him that makes you care for the poor fool. In my review of Dead Things, I envisioned him as Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad, but imagine Jesse as a badass necromancer. Given its pace, the first volume didn't allow for much character development and Carter was an idiot for the most part because he's trying to protect those he loves without realizing that he's alienating them in the process. He has been running from his past for a long time and now it's catching up to him. The ending of the first installment forced Carter to lay low for a while, but now new problems find a way to put him and those he loves in the line of fire. Finding himself in the middle of marital problems between two deities just might be the death of him. On the characterization front, Gabriella makes a nice addition to the supporting cast, and fleshing out Tabitha was also an improvement.

Once more in Broken Souls, Blackmoore captures the LA noir setting quite well and he keeps the tale moving at a good clip. So much so that you reach the end in no time. This is a problem endemic to most urban fantasy series, so it's not the author's fault. But as I'm about to finish reading the third volume, Hungry Ghosts, I can't help but feel that these two works could have been a single novel and would have been better for that. Indeed, I'm fortunate enough to be able to jump into the next one as soon as I finish the other. But would I manage to maintain the same level of interest had I been forced to wait a year or two between books given how quickly I go through them? Hard to say.

If you are looking for a gritty urban fantasy series featuring a deeply flawed male lead, the Eric Carter books are for you. There is definitely potential for bigger and better things to come, and it looks as though Stephen Blackmoore has a few tricks up his sleeve. Almost three novels into this sequence and I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would. It remains to be seen whether or not Stephen Blackmoore can up his game and elevate this series to another level, but so far it's been an entertaining read. Urban fantasy fans should definitely give these books a shot.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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