Friday, August 28, 2009

"The Calling" by David Mack

Title: "The Calling"
Author: David Mack
Pages: 336
Format: Novel
Genre: Urban Fantasy [officially a supernatural thriller]
Publisher: Pocket Books

What you can expect: An urban fantasy with an unlikely protagonist by the genre’s standards and rules so far with a touch of Christian mythology and a CSI/Law & Order aftertaste.

Pros: A protagonist that exists outside the urban fantasy male mold for danger boys; a decent albeit loose spin on Christian beliefs.

Cons: Unmemorable and more often than not stale prose, which is a matter of taste really, but I can’t be dishonest with my dissatisfaction. Another kidnapping story without reinvention of the trope.



No one would guess by looking at Tom Nash that he's extraordinary, and that's just fine with him. A tall, broad-shouldered jack-of-all-trades from Sawyer, Pennsylvania, Tom has a knack for fixing things. He also hides a secret talent: he hears people's prayers. Stranger still, he answers them. Maybe it's because he's a handyman, but Tom feels compelled to fix people's problems. Which is all well and good -- until the soul-shattering plea of a terrified girl sends him on the darkest journey of his life....


Heeding the call and leaving his home for New York City, Tom discovers a secret world beyond the range of mortal perception -- a world of angels and demons and those who serve them. With the guidance of a knowing stranger named Erin, Tom learns that he himself is one of The Called, born with a divine purpose and a daunting task: to help the powers of Heaven in the war against the agents of Hell, an army of fallen angels known as the Scorned. Thrust into an epic battle of the sacred and the profane, Tom Nash must find the girl who prayed for his help -- because her fate will determine whether humanity deserves to be saved, or damned for all eternity....

Characters: As you might have guessed already, I am not going to be as flattering as I would have liked to be with “The Calling”, but what can you do when a book doesn’t work for you other than share why it didn’t. As usual I will start with characterization and then move down to the other components. Surprisingly I had no issues with characters at large.

There is no denying that David Mack is a veteran as his long list of accomplishments in tie-in fiction and scriptwriting speak for themselves. His experience shows through in the character department with protagonist Tom Nash, who as a choice for main character excited me. Not many UF titles have a middle aged handy man with a pregnant wife; a wife that actually earns more than him. At the same time Tom is devoted to following through with the tasks provided by his divine vocation to hear prayers without much fuss. There is no dangerous sex appeal or hormonal denial of one’s given stand in the paranormal world, which I find refreshing and as execution well-performed.

From the support cast I enjoyed main villain Frank Kolpack, a dirty cop with a calculative mind and general fondness of big figure sums, and Anna Doyle, the kidnapped Phaedra’s mother. Frank is one of those Machiavellian characters that you can only admire in how they manipulate the elements around them and juice a situation for their own gain, while Anna is a very strong character. Her grief didn’t move me one inch, but her snappy anger-fueled repartee with her daughter’s kidnappers certainly made her one of my favorite characters from the whole novel.

While I enjoyed the axe handle wielding Erin Sanchez, Mack’s attempt to embroider personal tragedy and emotional issues to her spunky and aggressively sunny personality failed and just stereotyped her along so many other urban fantasy heroines. A not-so-realistic character was twelve year old Phaedra and here the reasons are too many. For one it’s a pain-stacking task to create a psychologically believable twelve year old, since children at that age are still in the phase of maturing and caught between childhood and teenhood. Since the novel itself is not YA and the target audience consists of adults I felt challenged to think as a pre-teen and justify her actions and behavior.

Story: “The Calling” as I already mentioned is an out-of-the-box project for urban fantasy as a genre and I praise the uniqueness that Mack brought to a world, where Good and Evil are represented by the Called and the Scorned, fractions that are built similarly. Each fraction has Seekers, who hear prayers, Sentinels, who have offensive abilities, and Sages, who are the generals above the foot soldiers in the ancient conflict. Members of both fractions are kept hidden from being captured or discovered by divine powers that work in subtle ways. So far so good, but the world this time is not enough to arouse my interest, when prose and plot border on dull.

Yes, as far as my personal preferences go and experience with fiction and entertainment media, Mack produced a rather predictable and easily forgettable novel. His prose is what I would call Spartan and rather states than evokes imagery. Longer paragraphs listing the items in every new setting killed the mood so many times. I guess, it’s fair to mention that the kind of simplistic approach resonates with his protagonist’s personality, but it certainly acted off-putting to me.

The instant I cracked the book open I knew that it would end on a positive note. We have a generally good-natured and untroubled character with the best possible intentions and a case, which involves a kidnapped by the bad guys child that can shift the balance. There is no mystery or suspense here that indicates that the good guy will fail or that he was in any peril, even while running from the Russian mob and the Scorned. I guess I am jaded in that department.

The Verdict: Not bad a transition into a different genre. It could have gone way worse and I am glad Mack avoided the common combinations of tropes and devices in urban fantasy, but it’s not quite as much as I expected it to be and I expect it to fade altogether from my memory quite soon.

Rating: 2 out of 5 shiny stars.

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