A young Oxford student discovers his mystical destiny on the eve of World War II.
Prolific <i>Star Trek</i> novelist Mack (The Calling, 2009, etc.) steps out of his comfort zone with this sprawling, ambitious fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy. Our hero is Cade Martin, an American graduate student pursuing his degree at Oxford in 1939 when he and his parents are forced to flee the oncoming war. But a sea monster appears midocean, killing Cade’s parents and leaving him stranded. He’s rescued by Adair Macrae, a wily old Scotsman and the leader of the Midnight Front, a top-secret cadre of sorcerers operating under the banner of the United Kingdom. Macrae explains that Cade is a nikraim, a human bonded before birth with the essence of an angel, imbued with paranormal abilities rooted in Renaissance-era ceremonial “magick.” As happens, these abilities come from harnessing the power of actual demons, which brings a terrible cost. After the obligatory training montage, the Midnight Front heads to Europe in pursuit of its enemy, a powerful black mage called Kein Engel, a “karcist” working on behalf of Adolf Hitler. Engel and his two dangerous adepts are setting a trap for the Allied invasion of France: “One that can unleash a legion from Hell, without instruction or restriction, to wreak havok on the earth until I am satisfied it has laid waste Science’s decadent modern world,” he explains. Mack’s novel is heavy on the universe-building, but it's also propulsive, with well-crafted characters and cinematic set pieces culled from the war’s most momentous crossroads. Equal parts brimstone and gunpowder, the book deftly mixes the tropes of high fantasy into a semirealistic portrayal of WWII, resulting in an entertaining scenario that wouldn’t be out of place in a video game or a spirited match of Dungeons & Dragons. The sequels promise to bring the story postwar into the 1950s and '60s.
A complex, entertaining fantasy that sets loose a “chosen one” hero arc among the dogs of war.