Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn
|Book Name:||Devil’s Call|
|Author:||J. Danielle Dorn|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Western / Horror|
|Release Date:||August 8, 2017|
“On a dark night in the summer of 1859, three men enter the home of Dr Matthew Callahan and shoot him dead in front of his pregnant wife. Unbeknownst to them, the mother of this unborn child hails from a long line of women gifted in ways that scare most folks – the witches of the Macpherson clan – and her need for vengeance is as vast and unforgiving as the Great Plains themselves. This long-rifled witch will stop at nothing – and risk everything – in her showdown with evil.”
The story being told is one of revenge most deserved served nice and fresh and to hell with waiting for it turn cold. A husband shot in the back and murdered by a man in black, a newly pregnant wife left full of rage and wicked thoughts and the history and skills of a coven at her back. It’s been compared to True Grit with magic and The Revenant with witches.
“Before I leave you in this world, my dear, I aim to record what came to pass when your momma rode from the Nebraska Territory, to Louisiana, to the frozen Badlands, to bring to justice the monster who murdered your father.”
Both descriptions are apt but I’m going with a Kill Bill meets Unforgiven because in the end the magic is not a dominate part of the story. There is plenty to enjoy in terms of spells, use of will and ingredients, certainly enough to provide the fantasy element but with things working very much as you’d expect there was no need to set about establishing a bunch of rules or creating a ‘magic system’ as it were. In a book of 240 pages this was a big strength and meant the pace never let up and the author was free to use her time doing more important things like fleshing out Li Lian and building a demonic reputation for the man in black.
Li Lian is a richly drawn character and a protagonist that readers will grow to respect and admire, helped by a healthy amount of backstory that establishes the fierceness of Li’s love for her husband and the unique and intimate connections they share. Throughout her journey she must deal with the blatant and course racism of the time with phrases like ‘half breed wench’ being thrown her way where ever she goes. She’s also a woman in a man’s world, or more succinctly a world where a lot of the men are complete shit bags. Thankfully Li Lian’s travelling companion could not be more different from her but represents the lone voice that believes her strange tale regarding the murder of her husband. Hawkins is the local butcher and a legendary drunk so sadly no one will believe him but he is an ally nonetheless. There is just enough time to take a detour into his past and gives as some clues as to his motivations which I was thankful for. Li Lian is a heavy and strong presence and the odd moment with another voice works well in allowing the reader a moment to breathe.
Devil’s Call is also a bit of a road trip book as another character is the surrounding landscape, the iconic Civil War American frontier that is described in spare but effective detail. Dorn draws the reader into this world beautifully but always with some restraint. We’re always aware that we’re not here to see stop and smell the roses. Similarly the book itself has a deckle edge giving it the look of a journal and a scratched and worn cover design that gives the whole book a life of its own.
The voice of the protagonist is wonderful and had me thinking of Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight and Cherry Jones the actress. There is a wry but grim sense of humour at play, a voice that has age and experience behind it and a surety of constitution. It was at all times free of untruths and I trusted it implicitly which gave me great freedom to simply sit back and absorb the tale without second guessing any moment for lack of authenticity. For much of the book we are not quite sure where the narrator is speaking from and this raises some interesting questions in terms of her point of view. Is she dead and this represents her last testament, is she alive and happy raising her child or is she somewhere in between? These are the sort of questions that kept me reading all the way up to the spectacular finale.
Devil’s Call is a quick and riveting tale of revenge and a very promising debut. It pushes all the right buttons and this top notch western delivers without compromise.