by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery
Review by Sam Lubell
Saga Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781481485562
Date: 31 January 2017 List Price $21.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
What if books were written like television series? Instead of having one or two authors write a novel, get a group of authors, put together a series bible with the long-range plot and character arcs, and have the authors write a series of adventures involving these characters. That's what serialbox.com does with five series released one episode at a time.
Bookburners (available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook) is a collection of the first season of the same-named serial. These fifteen episodes follow the adventures of a Vatican black-ops magic hunting team, Team Three of the Societas Librorum Occultorum. Their job is to hunt down and neutralize books of black magic, containing demons who can take control of human bodies.
The main character and reader surrogate is Sal Brooks, a NYC cop in her early thirties. She does not believe in God or magic. When her younger brother Perry visits with a magical book and talks of being under surveillance by a group he calls the Bookburners, strange things starts to happen. Her partner claims she's made the whole thing up and the building videotapes do not back up her story. Naturally, she investigates and discovers the Bookburners, who identify themselves as special consultants to the police department with the backing of the police chief.
It turns out that Perry is possessed by a demon called The Hand. To break the possession, someone has to close the book in which the demon lives. After the inevitable confrontation, Sal joins the team, telling them that they need a cop.
In the early episodes, the team confronts magic and demonic possession, helped by a magical orb that alerts them to new magical problems. At first the episodes seem independent, but gradually an arc emerges and the reader discovers connections across the episodes. There's corruption in the Vatican, one of the teams enjoys the violence too much, and there may be a traitor on Sal's team.
Each member of the team has their own secrets and their own reasons for becoming involved in this hidden world. Liam, their tech guru, lost two years to his own demon possession. Grace has super-strength and speed, but a lifespan tied to the burning of a candle. And Asanti, an archivist, is too willing to turn to magic as a solution.
This series can be considered the Vatican's supernatural version of the X-Files. The writers' styles blend seamlessly (or at least are edited well). Characterization is several notches above any television series and print does not have to worry about the cost of special effects or actors leaving the show.
Fans of X-Files-type adventures or a grown-up version of Buffy will find themselves right at home here. Readers who wonder what would happen if first-rate fantasy writers suddenly found themselves running a TV series with an unlimited budget will find Bookburners fits the bill. It's also suitable for fans of urban fantasy. While serialbox.com has already started a second season of Bookburners, this volume has a very satisfactory ending, not a cliffhanger.