These book titles remind of the titles of The Big Bang Theory episodes. First The Grendel Affair and then The Dragon Conspiracy. It’s cute, and hopefully Lisa Shearin won’t have to write so many that she starts to run out of ideas like that TV show….
In this sequel, Mac Fraser and Ian Byrne are investigating the theft of magical diamonds with bad mojo. There’s yet another rival dragon in town, this one a big bad Russian. And if a kidnapped gem mage who has no idea about the supernatural world activates the diamonds on Halloween, supernaturals across New York will be unmasked or killed instantly. So, kind of a big deal.
I’d like to point out the time jump here: The Grendel Affair took place on New Year’s Eve, and now we’re at Halloween of (presumably) the same year. Quite a bit might have happened to Mac over that time (yay, space for shorts!). This is a stark contrast to the lack of time jump in between this book and the third one.
When considered in light of this long gap, elements of the story that might seem surprising make more sense. For example, Mac and Ian feel like much more of a team in this one. I’ve read a few reviews that comment on how the transition from romantic/sexual tension to a sibling-like relationship in this one—complete with Mac giving Ian some dating encouragement—seemed oddly abrupt. And it is, from our point of view, because it’s only the next book. But for Mac and Ian, it’s been 10 months of working on the job together, with plenty of time to sort all that other stuff out. And, personally, I’m am a little relieved. I love depictions of functional, platonic friendships across gender lines, especially in a genre so heavy on the romance. There’s nothing to stop Mac from dating someone else—like say a certain goblin. Not that I’m picking a team yet.
The Dragon Conspiracy also benefits from being more of a mystery than the first book. While it still has an intense time crunch, Mac and Ian have to do a lot more work to figure out who is behind the theft (and even then, Shearin sets up a more shadowy Big Bad who remains unknown—yay for arcs!). Mac’s talents as an investigative journalist finally start to shine here, which is a nice change from the first book, where she seemed vastly under-utilized. Nevertheless, I’m still not satisfied with her portrayal. It’s like, can I replace this protagonist with a potato, and would the story still mostly make sense? Sure, it’s great that Mac’s abilities have expanded a bit, and she makes some contributions—but overall, she doesn’t stand out. She’s just there. One reason I enjoyed the Raine Benares books so much was because of Raine’s presence. While Shearin tries to give Mac some semblance of presence, it mostly seems like generic trappings and tropes.
Shearin continues to build the mythology of this world. Gorgons are a nice touch, and we learn more about how various other supernatural entities work—for example, vampirism and lycanthropy are like diseases, whereas elves and goblins and dragons are species. There are also hints that the dimension elves and goblins hail from is, in fact, the Seven Kingdoms of the Benares books (same goblin monarch, for one). That made my inner fanboy squee a little.
Also, if your library is one such that perpetually seems to have all the books in a series except the first, you won’t be too badly off. I’m not saying to skip The Grendel Affair, but if you read books 1 and 2 out of order, you won’t be lost or ruined by spoilers. The callbacks in this one are light enough that you can enjoy it without the context that the first book provides.
The Dragon Conspiracy is another promising entry in the series. It’s fun, which is pretty much the most important criterion for me with short, urban fantasy stuff like this. That being said, the series hasn’t yet hit its stride; there are still awkward moments when the book struggles with what kind of tone it should take towards some events. Many of the flippant moments seem a little forced, or bizarre (you can only mention Dramamine so many times for a laugh before (a) non-American readers have to Google to figure out what the brand name substance is and (b) the whole “ha-hah, Mac is getting motion sickness from all the epic chase stuff” wears thin). But just when the story stumbles, it redeems itself—I have to admit I really like the way Ben and Ciara get thrown together so fatefully. I might not have found a Mac team yet, but I’d totally ship those two.
As I mentioned in my previous review, I am binge-reading these ones, so The Brimstone Deception is up next. It’s going to be Hell.