Review: Night's Black Agents, by Daniel Humphreys
Paxton Locke #2
Last year, we reviewed Daniel Humphreys’ Fade. It was a fun variant of everything you love about Harry Dresden. Magic used in inventive ways. Much snark. Solid fight scenes. If you didn’t read it, check it out.
And now, we have the sequel, Night's Black Agents. It came out last year. Though I genuinely waited for book three to be near completion before I reviewed it.
Why? We'll get to that.
But evil never sleeps. Paxton must head to Arizona to help an old police friend with a supernatural murder problem.
The book has two arcs. One is a subplot detailing the travails of Mother Dearest after her escape from supermax in the last novel— as well as the hunt by Humphreys own version of the Monster Control Bureau — only with a different mission.
Our main plot follows Paxton hot on the trail of a magical murderer. The book opens only a week after the end of Fade. (Even Harry Dresden gets more time to rest.) And it begins with “I was halfway through a stack of pancakes when the dead guy walked in the door.” Probably the best opening line since “The building was on fire, but it wasn’t my fault.”
(Yes, I hate to open with comparing it to a line from The Dresden Files, but really, it’s one of the few works I can compare it to. One of the lines in the novel is literally “With the exception of magic, the only real talent I had was taking a beating.” — Tell me that doesn't sound like Jim Butcher.)
We open with a random encounter ... which will become less random over time. Because this random encounter sees Paxton for what he is, and sees him as a snack.
And this is just the opening.
There are a lot of "oh crap" moments like this scattered throughout my notes. Looking at notes I made on the kindle, many of my comments even at the start of the book are “Oy.” “Oh crap,” “Aw f***,” and “What do you mean she has groupies!?” et al. (By the way, a line for Larry Correia fans: “Forensic accounting, it seemed, was a class of sorcery all its own.”)
It’s even worse when Mother Dearest turns into Kilgrave from Jessica Jones, only creepier.
And all these comments are from Chapter 1. It just gets better from there.
Of course, Dan has great lines to put a backspin on tropes. As Paxton describes his world: “Sheer moments of terror followed by hours of law enforcement shouting.” And there are a bunch of … re-purposed lines from classic Star Wars (as opposed to EU novel Star Wars, because as we all know, there were no other films). And all of the one-liners are fun: “an orphaned teenager with sudden-onset wizard syndrome was a fertile field for the corrupting possibility of power,” or even the casual “Buddy, you’re about the ninth worst thing I've seen this week.”
Mother turns into a little bit of a Final Fantasy villain, but it makes more sense in book 3.
Not to mention that the Mother subplot is put to great effect when the villain of the week is enough to make her nervous.
And the feds hunting Mother actually serves to tie the main arc plot very neatly back to the primary plot for the individual novel.
Overall, it's a great balance of series arc and book plot.
(If the author is reading this review, I just got to this exchange"So, what, you think this is the end of the world?""Maybe. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Fire and brimstone."Ahem.... smartass).
Hell, to be perfectly honest, while I tend to skip the sections on the villains (which is a mistake I during the Honor Harrington series… oops) Humphreys manages to make these sections readable and tolerable, but more importantly, relevant to the plot as a whole. This is the point where Humphreys fits in magical mechanics in a way that doesn't make your eyes bleed. Hell, who am I kidding, he actually takes the time and effort to MAKE MAGIC MAKE SENSE. (I’m not naming names, JK).
Now here comes the boom.
So, why did I wait so long to review this? Because this ends on a cliffhanger.
Imagine the first time you ever saw The Empire Strikes Back. Now imagine if it stopped with Luke dangling in mid-air in Cloud city, Han is still frozen in carbonite, and the last we saw of the Millennium Falcon, it was being chased by TIE-fighters into the clouds.
That's what the end of this book felt like. My last note on the book is two words, and they are often favored by Samuel L. Jackson.
Don't worry. Book three is around the corner. It's coming out the last weekend in June. So if you haven't read Night's Black Agents yet, you needn't worry, you won't have to wait a year for the awesome conclusion.
Now, I really must compliment Dan on making an interesting federal agency to hunt black magic. These are obviously fictional feds, as the characters are colorful, interesting and entertaining. Also, to add to the humor, they're attached to ATF (or BATFE, if you want to be picky). I guess black magic is a sort of firearm. They have their own R and D section, complete with the sort of mad tinkerers you'd expect to be working in Q's lab.
And Humphreys does a great job of slow world building. Just casual references to gremlins on satellites, or magical abilities of X or Y person.
This is a well balanced book. Despite the first person narration, Paxton Locke does not suck all of the air out the room, nor does he eat up all the screen time. His sidekick, Cassie, is a quick study and gives Paxton someone to talk with and gives us varying perspectives to the same problem.
As for Paxton’s men in black, “Valentine” is the one that sticks out the most, but Elliot and George are also colorful characters. Humphreys does not tell us a lot about their backgrounds, but that’s because he wants to set up for a twist at the end… I hate to break it to Dan, but his twist does not top the cliffhanger he set up.
None, really. Sure, heroic federal agents is a fantasy, but not really political.
Paxton Locke is fighting the occult and the demonic, of course there’s a content warning. But honestly, it’s still PG-13.
Who is this for?
Anyone who is a fan of Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, or just good, action-filled urban fantasy, will enjoy this.
Why Read It?
You read this book because it’s awesome, fun, and highly entertaining.
Luckily, books 3-5 are already out, so the cliffhanger won’t make you tear your hair out. But you might want to buy book 3 while you’re buying book 2, just to be on the safe side.
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