Here’s a long-overdue review of the most recent novel by my favorite author, Blake Northcott. After exploring stories of superhumans in her Arena Mode and Vs. Reality book series’, Blake switched genres to explore the supernatural in this novel.
The premise of the book is that some years prior an event happened, referred to as The Incident. Basically, it was a 9/11-level terrorist attack, in which a small town in Arizona was decimated, and about 4,000 people were killed. In the wake of the attack, the U.S. Government has gone all “patriot act” on us, enacting draconian surveillance laws on the citizens in the name of national security. But the terrorists were just a cover story, the truth is that the destruction was caused by magick. Real magick, which has been seeping into our work from another reality.
A covert government agency known as the Father Division has been created specifically to crack down on the use and knowledge of magick, which most citizens are still unaware of. Magick practitioners are akin to web hackers in this world, people who scour the deepest corners of the internet for spells and magickal artifacts Not all of them are serious, but those who are may find themselves monitored and eventually hunted by Father Division agents, who are tasked with suppressing magick by any means necessary (even if that means summoning a black multi-tentacled monster to rip you to pieces).
The setting of this book is a suburb called North Valley in Virginia. Our lead character is Calista Scott, a 17-year-old girl from the wrong side of the tracks who attends an elite private high school, where she doesn’t really fit in. Among other problems, her mother had been arrested for suspected treason and is in jail awaiting trial, while Calista has to live with her uncle Frank, a well-meaning giant of a man who doesn’t know much about raising a teenager. Her only friends are a boy named Jackson, a popular football player, and Kaz, a nerdy gamer. When Jackson’s house burns down, killing him and his parents, Calista is devastated. But she also quickly begins to suspect that it wasn’t an accident, as the authorities claim. And she’s right. Jackson and his parents were murdered by Father Division agents.
Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, we learn this in the book before Calista does. She also didn’t know that Jackson had been experimenting with magick, and had put together his own book of spells, hexes, and symbols (sigils). Such a book is known as a grimoire, and Calista and Kaz manage to get their hands on it and discover that it’s the key to freeing Calista’s mother. But grimoires are considered extremely dangerous, so the Father Division is on the case. Agent Malek is a new rookie member of the Father Division, and he’s been assigned to lead the investigation in North Valley. Armed with techno-alchemy weapons and a sarcastic attitude, he seems to be ready for anything. But he also appears to have his own ulterior motives that may not align with those of his superiors.
The book is 31 chapters, plus a prologue, divided into three sections. IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is the set-up, introducing this world and the main characters to us. I’ve said before that one thing I love about Blake’s writing is her talent for world-building. That was a highlight of her previous novels as well as her Synapse stories for Heavy Metal Magazine. Through the dialog of the characters and regular inclusions of inserts from the grimoire and The Father Division handbook, we learn a lot about the environment that this novel takes place in, and it happens naturally without forced info-dumps.
OFF WITH YOUR PAST is the second act where Calista and Agent Malek’s paths cross and the stakes are raised, and WORLD BREAKER is the explosive final act.
This book is equal parts Young Adult fantasy novel and Tom Clancy-ish spy novel. Imagine a book where Katniss Everdeen was being hunted by James Bond. It may sound crazy, but it works. Generally speaking, Blake writes the dialog very well, that’s another of her strengths, although I’ll admit that sometimes some of the teens sound more like movie characters than actual school kids. Nevertheless, Calista is an identifiable lead. Some of my favorite dialog scenes in the book are the interactions between Agent Malek and Charles King, the gruff new director of Father Division who doesn’t think too highly of Agent Malek.
The North Valley Grimoire is an exciting mix of genres that will have you eagerly turning each page. Chacebook rating: FIVE STARS
Categories: BLAKE NORTHCOTT
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