Jace Valchek used to be an FBI agent in the here and now, until she was stolen—literally—by a magic-based law enforcement agency from another reality. Now she is known as the Bloodhound. She is the only criminal profiler in a U.S. shared by humans, vampires, werewolves, and an underclass of golems created to do menial labor. “Shared,” in this case, is a relative term: humans make up less than one percent of the population of this world, and it is widely expected that in the not-too-distant future, they may become extinct.
The reason Jace was grabbed by the National Security Agency was so she could help capture a human terrorist, Aristotle Stoker. Aristotle is descended from the famous vampire hunter, Bram Stoker, and as volume three of the Bloodhound Files series Killing Rocks opens, he is still at large. Until Jace catches him, she can’t go home—so, in the meantime, she’s been chasing serial killers along with her golem partner Charlie, an impassive, snappily dressed killing machine.
When Stoker finally surfaces, he is in cahoots with a mysterious sorcerer, Asher, who seems to be at the heart of every truly terrible spell ever enacted in this world. Asher had a hand in the creation of the first golems. He organized the massive human sacrifice that allowed vampires to have children, and he was instrumental in Jace’s abduction. If she and Charlie can capture both Asher and Stoker, she can finally return to her old life in our (comparatively dull) world.
Naturally, Stoker and Asher have other ideas.
I have been waiting for Killing Rocks with crazed anticipation ever since I learned its title, which led me to assume it would be an all-about-Charlie extravaganza. Urban fantasy is full of deeply interesting vampires and werewolves, but the golem isn’t something you see every day, and author DD Barant’s take on them is unique and delightful. I fell hard for Charlie as soon as I learned that he’s a big bag of sand animated by the spirit of a tyrannosaurus rex. What’s not to love, right?
But Charlie’s not the focus of Killing Rocks, at least not in quite the way I imagined. I suppose if I’d given much thought to what I expected, it would have been some kind of epic navel-gazing, angst-plumbing, Very Deep thing, where his Past Catches Up With Him. In fact, he’s caught up in one of Asher’s plots early in the story, and Jace is forced to team up with someone else, an Astonisher named Azura. This doesn’t mean that Killing Rocks is in any way a bad book, or even lacking in Charlie content. In fact, I was entirely happy to have my expectations challenged. Azura is a con-artist with great sleight-of-hand skills, who has been working in Las Vegas as an exotic dancer. She’s devious, a serious trickster, and the two make a bravura team.
DD Barant builds interesting worlds and populates them with great characters, but what I love most about this series is the quirky, and often twisted, sense of humor that pervades them. The banter is razor-sharp, and there’s something to draw a laugh on almost every page. At the same time, Barant is staking out some intriguing terrain as Jace’s story moves into material that has usually been the province of comic books. In Death Blows, we find out that comics are powerful magical artifacts in Jace’s adopted reality, so much so that they aren’t even legal. Now, in Killing Rocks, she must deal with the tendency of comics-based magic to spiral off alternate universes, infinite versions of people, and to reduce any character’s death to a temporary setback. Asher and people like him have the potential to shred a whole functioning universe, to “retcon” its entire history.
As a result, Barant has produced something that isn’t exactly metafiction or slipstream, though it has traces of both genres. It also means this particular fantasy universe is an especially complicated and thoroughly unpredictable place, one whose rules can change at a moment’s notice. There are no guarantees for Jace by the end of Killing Rocks: her life has become an endless effort to juggle flasks of nitroglycerin while sprinting over hot coals, racing to catch Stoker and get home before one or both worlds—or she herself—is changed irrevocably.
A.M. Dellamonica writes novels and short fiction and teaches writing online. She is passionate about environmentalism, food and drink, and art in every form, and dabbles in several: photography, choral music, theater, dance, cooking and crafts. Catch up with her on her blog here.