It’s been years since the Unknown Counterintelligence Agency’s televised announcement of the supernatural existing in the world. A Lynch City resident known to readers as Dwarf (a code name, his real one redacted), having applied to the UCIA, responds to the agency’s email requesting a midnight meeting. But it’s a ruse: Dwarf nearly signs a mysterious contract from a man who turns out to be a tentacled creature before being saved by shirtless, axe-wielding, mullet-sporting UCIA agent Swayze. This puts Dwarf in a unique predicament: because the transaction wasn’t completed, his soul doesn’t seem to belong to anyone, even himself. UCIA leader King asks him to join the agency, which effectively monitors the Ether—all realms other than Earth’s—for breaches from any number of species. Agents are after the monster’s unidentified client, the one gathering souls, while Dwarf encounters creatures, finding their way to Earth, that sometimes succeed in killing him. Fortunately, the apparently soulless man doesn’t quite die, coming back later alive and intact. Whether or not Dwarf becomes a field agent trainee, he’ll have to stop the client, who may have a terrifying agenda beyond mere soul accumulation. Despite a constant threat of otherworldly beasts, Dahll-Larssøn’s (In the Seraphim City, 2015) novel is endlessly amusing, thanks to the insolent but charming protagonist. In fact, the entire first-person narration is Dwarf telling his story to the UCIA, and he’s hilariously thorough, making sure to relay occasional slurring or incomprehensible mumbling. There are truly inspired moments, from elaboration on Dwarf’s newfound immortality to UCIA weaponry derived more from faith than physical hardware. Readers may not like the frequent lack of clarification; after Dwarf, for example, asks what exactly a soul is, agent Book’s meandering explanation ends with “that’s…more or less it. Kind of. Not really. But sort of.” However, it’s unfamiliar terrain for everyone, readers and characters alike, and because Dwarf’s nowhere near finished with his interview by the end, there’s clearly more to come—and more to learn.
Often perplexing, but delivers an immortal hero and an original world worth a second or third visit.