King of the Grey: City of Shadows Book One
by Richard A. Knaak
Review by Drew Bittner
Permuted Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781682612286
Date: 07 February 2017 List Price $9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Jeremiah Todtmann thinks he's seeing things that aren't there.
Unfortunately for him, these imaginary things really are there ... and they need his help.
In King of the Grey, Richard Knaak presents a surreal vision of Chicago, where the Grey dwell in the shadows and await their king--the one who can make them real. Jeremiah is that king, probably, even if he doesn't want the job.
Problem is, something out there does not care about Jeremiah's wishes. He has power, and a malicious entity is going to claim that power for itself.
A simple commute takes a strange turn for ordinary mortgage broker Jeremiah, as he attracts the interest of ravens and sees a stunning yet oddly monochromatic young woman, not to mention a weirdly persistent empty seat next to him. He tries to find the lovely black-and-white girl but loses her in Union Station ... which seems uncommonly crowded with blurry-looking commuters.
Meantime, the king is dead. His friend and counselor Haros wonders what they will do next. The now-dead king chose Jeremiah for his successor, but those plans are not going as smoothly as everyone had hoped. Jeremiah finds an odd tunnel out of Union Station, leading him to another encounter with the raven.
Escaping the weirdness of that commute, he tries to take sanctuary in his office and dull work routine, but that cannot protect him from what's to come. Visions conspire to torment him, even as the beautiful monochromatic woman tries to figure out how to deal with the pesky raven. An attack by a pool in ink forces Jeremiah to flee, allowing Callistra (the woman) to intercept him.
It turns out that the Grey exist somewhere between dreams and memories, insubstantial as smoke unless a chosen mortal almost literally brings them to life. Their speech is full of quotes, clichés, and marketing slogans and they shift appearance moment to moment. They are able to make realistic illusions, turning an empty storefront into a coffee shop or making a wreck into a limousine, but without a king, they face being forgotten and thus disappearing.
What follows is a game of shadows, as diverse factions seek to make Jeremiah their ally or their pawn. The raven, Haros, Callistra, and even Oberon and Titania (who exist in the world of the Grey) want the power Jeremiah holds for their own purposes. But what power is that? No less than power over the dreams of humanity itself, with immortality for the Grey who wins Jeremiah's allegiance.
Surely a prize worth having.
If Jeremiah wants to be his own man, however, he's going to have to distinguish friend from enemy and make wise choices, or the unleashed Grey will inflict endless nightmares on the world ... with Jeremiah to blame. And some of the most dangerous Grey are becoming all too real.
One of the great pleasures of being a reviewer is finding that a small press publisher has brought back some really wonderful books. Knaak's City of Shadows trilogy begins with King of the Grey, but the three are all separate stories. Now re-released after some years out of print, these books were urban fantasy before the category existed.
Knaak has a flair for creating magical characters who have all too real problems and issues to handle. Jeremiah struggles with plenty of mundane issues, even as he discovers this hidden magical world in Chicago. Jeremiah is a solid, reasonable, and sensible modern man; his world does not include creatures out of mythology and legend. And yet, he comes to understand and embrace this world in stages.
The factions battling over Jeremiah are also compelling, with Haros (and Callistra), the raven, and the faeries all wanting basically the same thing. The edge they have lies in the knowledge of what Jeremiah is capable of, which is his character arc: the journey from ignorance to knowledge (and thus realization of his power). It's a trope that works exceptionally well in urban fantasy, bridging the known and mundane to the strange and supernatural, and how they coexist side by side in the author's world. The trick lies in making this journey plausible, and Knaak throws enough obstacles and twists at Jeremiah to keep him (and the reader) guessing.
Readers who enjoy a good, solid, entertaining and fast-pace urban fantasy tale will enjoy this book. Many (like me) might find they are rediscovering it, and that kind of reacquaintance is always welcome.