When you're a bounty hunter in a world of magic, monsters, and miracles, your work — and the danger — never end.
Despite having banished the Phantoms of Ruthaer, bounty hunter Hector de los Santos does not consider the job complete — not until he sees the Orbuculum safely locked away in Ozera's aerarium. With transportation arranged by Lord Roger Vaughn, Earl Wolverton, Hector hoped for a well-earned respite from trouble.
He should have known better.
Nothing is ever easy for Damage, Inc. — especially with Count Dodz on the loose, and Lady D haunting Dave.
After a vicious attack against Brand sears Ozera's sacred mountainside and leaves the young dragon on the brink of death, it's discovered that someone has breached the magical defenses of Ozera's aerarium. Hector and his team vow to do whatever it takes to recover the Orbuculum and bring the thief to justice. With the life of one of their own on the line, failure is not an option.
And their adversaries—vampires, demons, ghosts, clockwork automatons, and the scheming Count Dodz—are coming for them. No matter how complex it all might sound, though, the bottom line of the Chronicles of Damage Inc. is a spirit of continual ongoing adventure and headlong momentum, the heroes facing one scrape after another and surviving by their wits, their arrows, and most crucially their trust and love for one another. Even surly Dave, a hard-swearing man who’s “only happy when he was shooting something,” evinces flashes of tenderness. The McDonalds conjure up a tabletop RPG campaign’s worth of weird magics, exciting encounters, seemingly insurmountable challenges in a narrative that ranges from ships to alchemy labs to dragon caverns to the hunting grounds of a lioness who readers will wish stalked across more pages.
The fast pace, earthy dialogue, vivid detail, and confident storytelling will please fantasy fans whose tastes run to action and camaraderie. The McDonalds’ world is rich and complex, with some elements and characters first appearing in the predecessor to this series, the Cayn Trilogy. A glossary and smart on-the-fly recapping illuminate the accumulated worldbuilding, but even seasoned fantasy lovers are advised to start with the first book in this series.
Takeaway: Fast-paced, party-based fantasy with a spirit of adventure, camaraderie, and thrilling action.
Great for fans of: Sam Sykes, Nicholas Eames.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A
Mask of the Vampire is the second book in the Chronicles of Damage, Inc. The novel follows a group of adventurers attempting to destroy a mask belonging to an ancient vampire, or at least mitigate how much damage the magical presence housed within the mask can do. These adventurers are a diverse cast of characters, each with their own quirks, strengths, and flaws. The personalities of the protagonists makes it difficult to call some of them “heroes”, though some certainly are. All the main characters have history and character development that make them seem realistically human, even if they are actually something other than human, such as an elf or dragon.
The most engaging aspect of Mask of the Vampire is its rich world-building. The world of Gaia is a dark fantasy reflection of our own world. From the overarching, lofty pieces of the world such as politics and maps, to minutiae such as food choices and local customs, the setting is detailed in a way that makes an immersive reading experience.
Though the people in this book and the world they inhabit are rich with detail, the story itself is slow-paced. If feels like the characters spend much of the narrative either recounting things that have already happened, either earlier in this book or in the previous novel or discussing urgently how to prevent other things from happening. When there are action sequences, those sequences are well-written and easy to visualize, and are interesting. However, they are spread too thinly between long stretches of dialogue, much of which is repetitive. The story itself is a good one, but the way it is presented is less adventure fantasy and more intrigue and investigation, so it may not meet the expectations of the usual fantasy reader.
Review of an Advanced Reading Copy from Parlatheas Press, LLC.
I don't usually comment on covers because "Don't judge a book by it's cover," but I really like that one.
So here we are once again with Damage, Inc. and their world spanning adventures. It's good to be back. Seriously, Dave, Hummingbird and crew (and I'm happy to see more of Jasper this time) are up to their usual shenanigans and that makes me happy, because I'm a native Shenaniganian.
Listen, it's not even noon yet.
Hopefully this isn't too much of a spoiler, but in part of the end matter it is revealed that Damage, Inc. started off as a gaming group. This makes a lot of sense to me because Mask of the Vampire and the other related novels do kind of remind me of a really good night around a gaming table with my friends throwing dice and arguing. Only the books come with the added bonus of not having to pick popcorn out of your hair afterward. (Don't ask, it's ugly.)
I don't mean to say that you can't enjoy the book if you're not a tabletop role player, because you totally can. I'm just saying that so much of Mask of the Vampire feels so familiar if you have. You'll recognize the tropes if you don't play, but it's so much better when you've lived them. Well, sort of. I mean, you don't really live the things you roleplay. Thankfully. I mean, I'm sure my players would be pretty upset at me for that time I almost TPK'ed them.
I'm getting off topic.
Listen, just buy the book.
Mask of the Vampire is a story about friends dealing with some rough circumstances in the best manner possible, or at least the best way they can come up with. One plan, in particular, sounded a little janky to me when they hatched it. I'm not going to say what it was, or how it turned out but I wasn't wrong. Still though, that adds to the reality of the work, because people don't always come up with the best plans in situations when they're under pressure. At the end of the day, they did something when they needed to do something.
Yes, life would be simpler if they could just walk to Mordor. No, really.
I'm fighting off the urge to make a Hardy Boys reference here, but I don't think it's going to work. There are a couple of different mysteries going on to go with the usual chaos and mayhem I expected in a Damage, Inc. novel. I detect a hint of Lord of the Rings here too, but only in a way. Let's just say that having a Mount Doom around might make things a wee bit simpler for our heroes.
I find myself liking our heroes more every time I read another installment in this series and this one is no exception. I find myself more drawn especially to the character of Hummingbird who, because reasons, seems to be easier to understand and relate to this time around. I feel like she's finally found her groove where maybe she hadn't before. There are still some things she needs to do and some obstacles she needs to overcome, but she's working here and she's moving forward. This could just be a personality thing on my part, but she seems to at least be making a better attempt to adapt to the world around her now.
Something I haven't commented on previously is the coolness of seeing characters from our planet in the books. The story takes place on a planet called Gaia (yes, I get the mythological reference) but a couple of the main characters are from the planet Terra (yep, that's us) and it's awesome. Every once in awhile you'll catch a reference back to our world and it's fun. Plus in a weird sort of way, Dave and friends are like the Vulcan/android in a Star Trek series: They exist to point out and analyze the strangeness of the people around them.
The action sequences in Mask of the Vampire are amazing as always. Whether it's a straight up fight or something even bigger, the McDonald's deliver. I've never seen a character arc come quite so far in one fight as what happens here either, but it makes sense and was necessary. I was really impressed by that one scene and how it turned out. Something things aren't easy to do and never should be, but needs must when the devil drives.
In short, I'd read it. I mean, I already did though. Let's just say if it's worth my time, I'd say it's worth yours. Like I just did. Or sumfin'
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Hidden Treasures