Review: Shadow People by James Swain

Shadow People by James SwainFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Dark fantasy
Series: Peter Warlock, #2
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: June 11, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In Shadow People, national bestselling author James Swain’s brilliant follow-up to Dark Magic, magician Peter Warlock has a dark secret. A psychic who peers into the future, he is able to use the information to alert the authorities to pending trouble.

During a séance Peter is confronted by a group of evil spirits called shadow people, beings who have the power to kidnap a person’s soul. Peter is taken to another plane, where he confronts a serial killer about to claim his next victim. It’s a harrowing encounter that Peter only barely manages to survive.

Peter soon realizes that the shadow people are connected to the serial killer, and that he is a member of the Order of Astrum, a group of evil psychics who murdered his parents years ago. He must find the serial killer in real time before he claims his next victim. To save many lives, Peter may have to tap into a legacy that he has always dreaded…and a power that may consume him.

My Review:

Peter Warlock is a magician, one like David Copperfield or Harry Houdini. He pulls rabbits out of hats and saws his assistant in half.

Except that Peter Warlock also has more than a bit in common with Harry Dresden, that other famous wizard (or warlock) of urban fantasy. Some of Peter Warlock’s stage tricks are all too real. Peter’s stage name, and stage persona, are a mask that he uses to hide some real magic.

Peter Warlock is a psychic. He reads minds. Sometimes he can see the future. Usually when something bad is barrelling down on New York City.

Dark magic by James SwainIn this second story about Peter Warlock and his friends, the Friday Night Psychics (see my review of Dark Magic for Peter’s first outing), a group of powerful and dangerous ghosts, called “shadow people” seem to be after Peter and his friends.

They keep kidnapping Peter and everyone close to him, just so they can drag their souls to the site of a future murder. Even worse it’s the latest in a long line of murders by a serial killer, and it seems that Peter and his friends are the killer’s next victims.

The killer is even more dangerous because he recognizes Peter’s power, even in his incorporeal state, AND knows how to harm him. The man isn’t just a murderer, he’s one of the many minions of Peter’s nemesis, the demonic Order of Astrum.

The only question is whether Peter can stop him before he kills again, all the while trying to fend off the misguided affections of a witch who is scrying (spying) on his every move and while he’s attempting to preserve his relationship with the only normal woman he has ever let into his life.

Dying might be easier, if only there literally wasn’t the devil to pay.

Escape Rating B: In my review of the first Peter Warlock book, Dark Magic, I did say that if there were further books in the series I would be a very happy reader. Color me happy.

The Peter Warlock series should probably be the dictionary definition for dark fantasy. It’s not quite urban fantasy, although it has a bit of that flavor. The setting is contemporary New York City, after all. But it’s a NYC in which magic works, albeit only for a select and secretive few. Very few people believe and it is all too easy for a practitioner to either end up in a psychiatric ward or become a government experiment. Neither outcome is desirable.

There are demons. It’s part of Peter’s past, and possibly future, that his parents were killed by a group that dedicated itself to evil, The Order of Astrum. A group that they once belonged to.

There is a dark side to the force, and its minions are everywhere. Part of the suspense in Shadow People is for Peter to determine exactly who serves whom. Who is truly evil, who is merely misguided, and who is trying to help him? Nothing is clear, everything is in shadow.

Peter is a fascinating character. I was utterly transfixed by his story in Dark Magic, but Shadow People spent too much time talking about his relationship issues and not enough time dealing with demons and magic. While I still felt compelled to finish the story as fast as I could turn the pages, it left too many of the larger issues unresolved.

In short, Shadow People has the feel of a middle book. It ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. There had better be a third book in this series!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Dark Magic

Dark Magic by James Swain is one of those books that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Take one part Batman, one part A Discovery of Witches, one part Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and one part The Prestige, mix well, and what you have is one hell of a story. I almost forgot, add in a touch of either the X-Files or Men in Black, just for flavor.

Peter Warlock is the leader of the Friday Night Psychics. Who are the Friday Night Psychics? Just what they sound like, a group of psychics who get together every Friday night. Except that these aren’t charlatans, these are the real deal. Peter and his friends all have power, real power, of one kind or another.

They get together every Friday night to connect with the spirit world, to find out if there is anything bad going to happen. Well, anything big and bad. They live in New York City, after all. Something small and bad is always happening. The Friday Night Psychics are trying to prevent major catastrophes.

So when Peter foresees some kind of epic catastrophe radiating out from Times Square only four days in the future, they all start working on how to alert the police. They’ve always sent in anonymous tips before, but this is too big and too imminent for an anonymous phone call.

And they all know what will happen if they reveal themselves. They’ve already lost a friend that way. They’re not afraid that no one will believe them. The government will believe them. The CIA took their friend Nemo somewhere they could pump him for predictions–indefinitely.

But before they can figure out a way to alert the police, the evil forces send an assassin after Peter. Live, on stage, in the middle of his magic act.

Peter Warlock covers his real psychic powers by making his living as a stage magician. He pretends to read minds by really reading minds. He’s hidden his talents in plain sight his entire life.

The attack alerts the police and the FBI. It also blows the covers off Peter’s tortured past. The FBI agent who comes to interview Peter in the wake of the attack is the same agent who interviewed him when he was a child, after his parents were thrown into a car in front of his eyes and driven to their deaths.

Peter’s attacker and his parent’s murderers are members of the same society of dark magic mercenaries, the Order of Astrum. And now the Order is after Peter and his friends.

The police were already hunting for Peter’s would-be assassin. Every city that Jeremy Wolfe has visited has suffered from a series of murders of well-respected psychics, followed by an act of terrorism. Peter knows that his friends and his city are next. What he does not understand is how the deaths of his parents might be linked to this Order of Astrum.

The discovery of his parents’ true history threatens his identity, and his life. Peter finds that his friends have been keeping terrible secrets, secrets that he must unravel in order to find the truth about himself and his destiny. But once he learns all, he then must answer the eternal questions about the nature of good and evil. Will his ends justify his means? And will he always be able to choose good when there is evil in his soul?

Escape Rating A: Dark Magic is the kind of story for which the term “dark fantasy” was invented. Peter Warlock is such an intense character. He does remind me a lot of Batman, I mean Bruce Wayne. He watched his parents die, and he grows up tortured by their deaths. He creates this image of them as being so good, only to discover that they weren’t the people he thought they were.

The suspense factor was also very well done. There’s the part of trying to get one step ahead of the assassin, as he targets the psychics and then there’s the second part, just trying to find out what the heck the real target is.  Very techno-thrillerish and very cool.

If there turn out to be more books in this universe I will be a very happy reader.