A Snake In The Grass by K. A. Stewart
|Book Name:||A Snake In The Grass|
|Author:||K. A. Stewart|
|Publisher(s):||Pirate Ninja Press|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||July 1, 2014|
I discovered K.A. Stewart’s Jesse James Dawson series several years ago when the first installment, A Devil In The Details, hit the shelves. Featuring demon-slaying samurai family man Jesse, the storyline and characters were a breath of fresh air in the crowded and often over-amped urban fantasy market. Jesse puts his own soul on the line in order to win back others’ from the demons. Sort of like betting at poker, except the cards are swords, the cash is souls, and the other players are demons! I loved the action, wit, and strong character relationships (not to mention a certain mysterious demon pal), so I devoured the next two books in the series, A Shot In The Dark and A Wolf At The Door.
After book three, however, and much to my disappointment and that of other fans, Roc declined to continue the series. Seriously, guys, the end of book three was not a happy place for Jesse. He’s shouldering—literally—275 human souls, which makes him the biggest prize in the growing demonic war…not to mention the biggest target.
So, I was thrilled when Stewart announced she’d be continuing it on her own. The self-publishing route was a brilliant way to complete the series, please her readers, and avoid leaving her character in a lurch.
That brings us to book four, A Snake In The Grass, which released earlier this summer. First, I’ve gotta say I’m so excited Stewart was able to match the gorgeous cover art of the series. She makes several ambitious decisions with this story and some work better than others. First, she takes us out of the Kansas City area where the prior books had largely been centered, and lands us in Mexico among the family of Jesse’s apprentice, Esteban Perez, whose ancestors have been using magic and hunting demons for centuries. The plan is to seek the family’s help to extricate those 200-plus souls from Jesse’s back while shielding him from any demons in pursuit. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…
What unfolds is a mix of action and family drama as Esteban strives to accept the mantle of family patriarch (aka lead demon hunter), redeem relatives who are flirting with the dark side, and avoid lectures from his powerful and pragmatic mom. I’ve liked Esteban’s character throughout the series, and it was fun to see him grow and come into his own here. It was definitely “his” book.
A Snake In The Grass displays quite a bit more maturity than the average coming of age tale, with much higher personal stakes. Esteban’s memory of the older brother he lost in battle and the pseudo father-son conversations between him and Jesse were some of my favorites in the book. Esteban also owns most of the large-scale action scenes as Jesse opts out in order to protect the souls he’s carrying. While I thought it was an interesting choice for Stewart to essentially sideline her main character from much of the action, I did miss Jesse in the battles. The good news is that his jokes and colorful assessments are still in hefty supply!
Stewart’s decision also sets up some great internal conflict for Jesse, because he wants so badly to jump in and help his apprentice, yet can’t. Sort of like being charged to protect a nuke while watching your friends charge into hand-to-hand combat just down the street. You know you can’t leave your station, but you’d take every other measure you possibly could to help. It’s not a situation many authors choose for their action-oriented fantasy heroes, and I liked that Stewart played with it.
As usual, she also has a well-developed supporting cast. Svetlana, Jesse’s hyper-vigilant body guard/house guest, and Carlotta, Esteban’s mother, were my favorites. I found Svetlana to be both hilarious (in her dry, overly serious fashion) and intriguing – I really want to know about her past and why she became a hunter. And Carlotta managed to feel like a genuine worried mom AND an ultra-powerful bruja, leading a powerful family.
The other great character I’ll mention is Henry, who doesn’t get a name until the final page, but definitely won an odd little place in my heart. Part of that is due to Stewart’s spot-on description of him, and the fact that she manages to do it through a Star Wars reference. Double points! Henry plays a pivotal role in this book, and I’m excited to see where Stewart takes him next in the series.
Henry also fills a gap I sorely missed for most of the book – Axel. Friend? Informant? Demon? Axel is, at times, all three. He makes a few appearances in A Snake In The Grass (I cheered), but I get the sense that Stewart used this book as set up for Axel’s future story. While I got a kick out of Jesse’s mini-confrontation with Axel during the big reveal at the book’s end, I hope we get more details about Axel’s explanation of the war. It felt crammed here, and I’m not sure it needed to be. I would have liked to see a little less detail on the drama in Mexico and a little more about the (major!) turn of events in the demonic war.
Stewart planned a six book series, and in many ways, A Snake In The Grass is a classic middle-of-the-series novel. That said, I did enjoy this volume, and I’m very much looking forward to the next two. I’m really excited to see Jesse and Esteban fight side by side, and I can’t wait to get a better glimpse of the full scope of demonic scheming!