Review of The Brimstone Deception by

Book cover for The Brimstone Deception

Finally caught up on this series, thanks to the magic of ordering stuff online and reading these relatively short novels back to back. The Brimstone Deception starts the day after The Dragon Conspiracy concludes. With such tight timing, it’s no coincidence that emotions and tensions continue to run high. Lisa Shearin advances Mac’s storyline even as she drops some more bombshells about the world of The SPI Files in general.

Already the plot of this book feels fresher than the previous two. Because of course if you have a direct line to Hell the first thing you’re going to do is synthesize a street drug from brimstone. I love the nuance that this plot brings to the book. Shearin brings in new characters with unique abilities and positions, such as Bert the necromancer, Marty the demonologist, and Fred the half-elf/half-human NYPD officer. And we get to learn a lot more about Rake Danescu, the sexy goblin who is, at the moment, the top contender on the short list of Mac’s love interests.

As I mentioned in the previous review, I’m happy with the way that Mac and Ian’s relationship has become more platonic, allowing each to pursue their own romances on the side. Romance takes a backseat in general here, however, and that’s fine too. While Mac acknowledges her attraction to Rake, and her discomfort with the opaqueness of her motives, she has far bigger problems at the moment. That’s a healthy stance to take. I’m hoping to see more emphasis on Mac’s work/life balance as the series progresses.

In place of romance, Shearin serves up a healthy dose of supernatural politics. We get a much richer glimpse into how SPI fits into the wider supernatural scene. SPI is clearly Vivienne Sagadraco’s show, and while it has international reach, I’m curious to find out if there are any competing outfits. It’s clear that as powerful as Sagadraco might be, the goblins, elves, et al have influence that make them formidable if crossed. Urban fantasy often features some of the best political intrigue I’ve come across in my fiction, with allegiances and loyalties falling across species and supernatural lines.

Also, The Brimstone Deception confirms, fairly blatantly, something that The Dragon Conspiracy hinted at: The SPI Files and Raine Benares series take place in the same universe! I tried googling about this for more information, but maybe I just don’t know the right fan sites. But this is a a huge deal for me, because it opens up the possibility of a Mac/Raine team-up. I am totally down for that.

That being said, Shearin does a great job balancing longtime fans like me with new readers ignorant of the backstory of the Seven Kingdoms. So while there are nice little references and a character crossover that’s rewarding for Raine Benares readers, if you’re literally just picking up this book and have never read any of Shearin’s other novels, you won’t in any way be lost.

And on a more serious note, while I’m happy about the potential for crossovers, I hope Shearin continues to exhibit the restraint she has thus far shown in keeping the two series mostly separate. Sitting down to write these reviews over the past week, I realize that I keep comparing these books to the Raine books—and these ones keep coming up short. Which isn’t their fault! I think that urge will continue to diminish as the series comes into its own.

Speaking of which, the intimations of bigger and better story arcs continue here. Once again we have a direct reference to the face-shifting ghoul terrorizing Ian. (According to the Goodreads series list, the next book is The Ghoul Vendetta, so I’m guessing we’ll soon get some pay-off on that arc!) And as Mac’s powers continue to grow, it’s being implied that she is catching the attention of beings that normally don’t bat an eye in Earth’s direction. I wonder what else is going to come out of the woodwork over the next couple of books!

Mac continues to get better as a protagonist with each book. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with her now. However, the exposition overload that front-loaded The Grendel Affair creeps back in here. It’s a case, sometimes, of wanting to show the research—but then, I’m reminded that Mac is a journalist by training, so maybe all this showing off is Shearin making Mac’s voice authentic….

narrows eyes You win this one, Shearin!

The Brimstone Deception is a lovely addition to The SPI Files. I wouldn’t recommend reading it first, just because it happens so soon after the previous book, but if you did happen to pick this up at the bookstore, you wouldn’t be too lost. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the way Shearin balances action sequences and literal visits to Hell (well, pocket dimensions and anterooms thereof) with questions of trust among the main characters, investigations into drug lords and kingpins, and concerns over whether Mac will have any wardrobe left by the end of this series.

The SPI Files is slowly but surely carving out a place for itself in urban fantasy with its acerbic but decidedly upbeat approach to magic and monsters. Against the larger, grittier backdrop of the genre, this series is a nice change of pace.

I was going to criticize the covers and complain about how they’re all different poses of Mac and Ian waving weapons around … but then again, The Dresden Files books have monotonously featured Harry Dresden on the cover for at least the last nine books—so I guess I won’t throw any stones. Plus, it’s nice that the covers acknowledge Mac and Ian’s partnership. Ian has Mac’s back in this book—hopefully in The Ghoul Vendetta we’ll see a little more vulnerability in him and Mac will really have a chance to shine.

Engagement

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