Grace Under Fire
by Frog Jones and Esther Jones
Edited by S.A. Bolich
Cover Artist: Nathan Reed
Review by Paul Haggerty
Sky Warrior Book Publishing Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780692280300
Date: 22 August 2014 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Grace Under Fire is the first book in what is now at least a trilogy. In the world of Grace Moore, there exist summoners. The simplest explanation is that they have the power to magically, and instantaneously, move things from point A to point B, either within this world, or to and from adjoining dimensions called Weaves. There's more to it of course, but the details and wrinkles, are fleshed out in the book. It seems like something that could make the world an interesting place, except for the small detail that the government has declared all summoners to be innately evil, and requires them to be neutralized on sight. Makes having a career a little difficult.
Not that it's going to stop people. Summoners live and work in secret, establishing communities called Groves in various cities. Grace Moore works for the Seattle Washington Grove, filling a magical role similar to the gritty cop that plays by her own rules and is always being hauled before the commissioner to explain her latest stunt. She's not terribly powerful as summoners go, but she's extraordinarily clever at using the power she has; which can be far far more annoying to the powers that be.
As the book begins, Grace is just trying to get a bite to eat when she's forced to deal with a bunch of creatures that have come visiting from another Weave. This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen, the boundaries between the Weaves are supposed to be strong enough to keep things from slipping through accidentally. And by the time she sends them all home and gets to the Grove to report in, things have gone from bad to apocalyptic. The Grove had received news that the neighboring Spokane Washington Grove has been completely destroyed, down to the last student summoner. The only survivor is a relative of one of the summoners, but who lacks any ability of his own. Naturally, the leaders of the Grove come up with the most expedient idea to investigate the slaughter without putting Seattle at risk. They're going to send Grace to Spokane, all by herself.
The other half of the book's team is a teenager, Robert Lorents: orphan, a high-school student, music lover and, unknowingly, a summoner himself. Robert inherited his uncle's notes and personal effects. And thus discovered that his uncle was a summoner, which is hard for him to accept, given that all summoners are evil incarnate. Added to the mix is the fact that Robert is, like so many geeks in high school, unlucky in love. Perhaps, he thinks to himself, this summoning stuff might help him get a little revenge on his rival. After all, just a little tiny bit of revenge can't damn his soul. He can stop whenever he wants. Note: this is like handing a teenager a machine gun and having him say: "I'll just shot the cigarette out of that guy's mouth. What could possibly go wrong?"
What goes wrong is that Robert breaks several summoner laws, not to mention attracts the attention of the force that slaughtered an entire Grove. A force that eats summoners for their power and would dearly love to snack on Robert. And would have succeeded, if not for the timely intervention of Grace, with the unfortunate repercussion of the destruction of a city mall and attracting the attention of dozens of summoner-fearing police officers. Thus begins the chasing, the running, and the fighting, as the pair try to figure out what they're facing and how to stop it, without being killed by a ravenous summoner-eating beast, or arrested and killed by the very people they're trying to protect.
The magic system underlying the summoners in Grace Under Fire is refreshing in that it's self-limiting. Each summoner has a certain level of power, and that's all they're ever going to have. This eliminates the need to have bigger and badder villains in each book, with the heroes powering up to planet-shattering, God-like powers by the end. Grace has the power she has, and she's comfortable with that. Robert is actually more powerful, though he doesn't really understand how to use his powers yet, making him less useful but more dangerous at the same time. What makes Grace shine is her ability to out-think her opponents, pulling all manner of things out of thin air in creative and unexpected ways.
The end of the book is satisfying as it wraps up the immediate threat but doesn't tie off all the threads. Our heroes are given a bit of respite, but the powers behind the plot against the Groves is still out there, and you know no villain takes defeat gracefully. I'm very much looking forward to picking up Coup de Grace and seeing where this all goes.