Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Black Box Inc #1
Published by Bell Bridge Books on October 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
Need to hide something from the fae?Got a tricky trans-dimensional delivery to make?Need a big ball of magic that can destroy the world?Call Black Box Inc.
The world as we know it is gone. Since the “extradimensional happening,” every creature, monster, and fairy tale goblin has turned Asheville, North Carolina, into their personal playground. An uneasy truce exists between the races, but Chase Lawter’s unique ability puts him squarely in the crosshairs of treachery, feuds, and monsters looking to make a buck on black market goods. Chase is the only known being who can pull material from between dimensions and shape it into whatever he likes—like boxes. Like boxes in which folks hide smoking guns and severed heads. Only Chase can hide the boxes, and only Chase can recover them from the Dim. All for a tidy sum, of course.
His crack team—a yeti, a zombie, and a fae-trained assassin—have his back. What could possibly go wrong?
I picked Black Box Inc to read for Halloween both because it looked interesting (which turned out to be true), fun (which definitely turned out to be true) and because the author is best known for his horror stories – even though Black Box Inc didn’t look exactly like horror – which was a good thing for this reader.
In that sense, I got what I expected. Black Box Inc is more like horror-adjacent, and that’s about the way I like it. It’s urban fantasy, in a universe where the things that go bump in the night do come out to play, as well as many of the other standard character groups that populate urban fantasy as well as horror.
And it’s a road novel. The gang, quite literally has to take the road to Hell. The caper, as there often is in urban fantasy, in this case is to steal the soul of Lord Beelzebub. Who both is and isn’t who you are thinking of.
And Hell kind of looks like Detroit – in all of its Motor City heydays. And yes, I meant that as a plural.
The set up of the universe is, while not unique, certainly interesting. Like the break in the wards around New Orleans after Katrina in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series, or the mashing together of the fae and human dimensions in Kai Gracen’s world (by Rhys Ford), there was an extradimensional happening in the quite recent past of Chase Lawter’s version of our world.
All the dimensions have become connected through portals. Earth’s portals, not very surprisingly, are in places where the veil between dimensions has always been a bit thin. Places like New Orleans, and San Francisco, and, Asheville NC, where Chase and his gang at Black Box Inc operate their extradimensional business.
Chase was among the many humans who picked up interesting powers in that happening. But Chase is unique, not just among the humans, but seemingly among the many other species who have suddenly acquired connections to our world. Chase can manipulate the “Dim”, the stuff that exists between dimensions. He can create weapons from it. But mostly, Jake makes boxes – hence the name of the company, Black Box Inc.
Because Jake makes “dim boxes” big and small, that allow him to hide things that people don’t want found, or lost, or stolen, in the dim, where only he can retrieve them.
It’s a living. Sometimes a very good living. Sometimes a very dangerous living. But it’s a living that keeps Jake and his colleagues busy and pays the bills.
About that gang…Jake’s friends and colleagues are an assortment of beings and personalities that could only have existed after the happening. His transportation manager is a Yeti, his business manager is a zombie, and his bodyguard is definitely human – but a human who learned to be an assassin while she was a fae changeling. Oh yeah, his lawyer is a banshee. It seems like ALL the lawyers are now banshees.
And Jake needs every hand on deck – even the ones that he doesn’t know he has – when he and his friends find themselves caught in the middle of a manipulative game between Daphne, the Queen of the Fae, and Lord Beelzebub, the ruler of a dimension that Jake calls hell.
Daphne wants Beelzebub’s soul so that she can get past his defenses and conquer his dimension. Beelzebub wants to use his soul, which he doesn’t really need anyway, in order to trap Daphne and as many of her warriors as he can so that she will stop trying to take over his dimension.
And everyone seems to think that threatening Chase and using Chase and manipulating Chase is the best way to get what they want.
They might even be right. But when both sides are playing you, you kind of get to choose which one you’re playing with, and which one you’re playing against. And it feels really weird that the Lord of Lies is on the right side of anything.
After all, all is fair in love and war, and this is definitely war.
Escape Rating B+: Black Box Inc is a hoot and a half from beginning to end. Sometimes complete with actual hoots – because the snarkitude exhibited by all the characters, but especially Chase, is often laugh out loud funny.
But Black Box Inc basically is urban fantasy of the snarky anti-hero school. While we don’t see nearly as many of those as we used to (Harry Dresden has gotten pretty damn serious over his last few books), it is a familiar trope. Black Box Inc is a damn good example of that trope, but it is familiar territory.
Part of what makes this particular book so much fun is the way that the author pokes at some of the craziness in the real world by holding up the post-happening changes as pointers to how things really are anyway, no matter how they are dressed up in real life. That all the law firms on Earth have been taken over by banshees is clever and feels right – but in some ways it doesn’t feel different from popular perceptions of real-world lawyers.
The best part, however, as with all urban fantasy when it works, is the gang. It’s not just that everyone is smart and everyone is interesting and everyone cracks wise at the drop of a hat, but that they are all different and likeable (even when they aren’t supposed to be) and that the author shows both how smart they are and how much they care about each other.
And just enough things get stood on their heads to make it seem fresh.
The worldbuilding also holds up quite well. While this is not a version of Earth I’d actually want to live in, as a construct, it makes sense and hangs together. Well done.
In a week where real life was going completely insane, Black Box Inc was marvelously diverting. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next book in the series. I definitely hope there are lots more!