Operating on the theory that, if readers who like my books also like books by another author, I’m probably going to like that author too, I found Christopher Nuttall, as you can see here. Well, now I’ve found Ben Reeder, who is very different from Nuttall, but his books are every bit as enjoyable.
Despite the title, Chance Fortunato, the main character, isn’t really a demon’s apprentice, though that’s the official claim. In fact, his father sold him to a demon, Count Dulka, when Chance was only seven. At fifteen Chance does what no one else has ever been able to do under the similar circumstances: he finds a way to escape from Dulka. Unfortunately, during Chance’s captivity, he has done so much evil for his master that his soul has become tainted. He needs to find a way to atone, but everyone from his former master to the Conclave (an organization of wizards determined to kill people who have served demons) is against him. He is reunited with his mother and meets a sister he never knew he had, but, though they bring love into his life, they also become potential hostages if one of his numerous enemies wants to get some leverage on him.
Given Chance’s background, he could easily become an antihero. Subject to severe abuse for eight years–left with scars bad enough to frighten people who see them–he could follow the pattern of some real-life abuse victims and become an abuser himself. He could be a very formidable one, in fact, since his former master taught him enough magic to make him extremely dangerous.
However, that isn’t what Chance wants to do. Instead, he wants to find some way to cleanse his soul of the evil he was forced to do over the last eight years. Reeder does a masterful job of making a reader feel sympathy for Chance while at the same time wondering if Chance can keep shouldering his almost impossible burden, or if he will inevitably backslide.
I’ve never had a student who went through as much suffering as Chance does, so I can’t say how realistic the psychology is, but Chance certainly feels real, as do the other characters. Both the high schoolers and the adults.
Reeder knows how to pump a story so full of adrenaline that a reader (no pun intended) can’t tear his eyes away from it. At the same time, he does a great job of forcing a reader to think about moral challenges. For instance, every time Chance uses hellfire, he corrupts his soul a little more–but what if he has to use it to save someone else? On a more mundane level, Chance has to weigh the consequences of using violence. Wanda, one of the friends Chance makes in his new school, believes that violence is always wrong and always carries a karmic cost. Lucas, another friend, believes violence is sometimes the only way to avert a greater evil. Though Chance himself doesn’t spend much time philosophizing about his own use of violence, which he usually resorts to when some supernatural force is after him or someone he cares about, Reeder finds subtle ways to raise the issue at every turn.
Reeder’s interesting life, which has included roles as diverse as serviceman and D & D player, fills his writing with interesting detail. His descriptions of the fight sequences, including the realistic way he handles guns, are far different from what a lot of writers produce. At the same time, he has no trouble inserting these true-to-life moments into a story of demons, wizards and werewolves without skipping a beat. The diverse elements hang together as if they belong exactly where they are.
Having learned my lesson with Nuttall, I managed to avoid reading the entire series in one enormous binge. In this case, there are only four books, and I would have finished too quickly. That I will read the other books, however, I have no doubt.
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