Clyde Williams and Kev Carpenter are best friends sharing a Brooklyn apartment in Daniel James’ fantasy novel, Hourglass. Clyde is an artist who dreams of making his own comic books, and Kev? Well, Kev’s dead. He was fatally shot in a robbery a couple months prior to the events of the novel, but his ghost still hangs around that Brooklyn apartment. After all, Kev and Clyde are a team; they’ve been inseparable for years, so why should death put a stop to their friendship?
Still, Clyde worries that Kev is struggling to make sense of why he kept on living after being killed:
Clyde stirred his coffee and paced back toward his bedroom. He didn’t obsess over his first issue script or his stacks of thumbnail page layouts and character sheets, and he didn’t even sift through his email for the umpteenth time hoping for that life-changing message from an interested colourist, letterer, or—pinch-me-I’m-dreaming—an editor extending a heavenly opportunity down from the cloudy pantheons of corporate comics. No, he quietly sat at his drawing board and stared out across the hall to the living room, furtively listening to Kev distracting himself, caught somewhere between life and death and currently incapable of truly committing to either.
So when Clyde and Kev are approached about joining a secret organization called Hourglass that specializes in training ghosts and their living “anchors” to work as clandestine government agents, Clyde puts aside his distaste for the military for the sake of giving Kev some purpose in his afterlife. As they learn how to be secret agents, they also learn that the world of the paranormal is far deeper and stranger than either of them ever imagined.
Kirkus Reviews says this series opener is “an exciting and complex tale with memorable characters, standout battle scenes, and riveting worldbuilding.” It’s the first fantasy novel James, who lives in Liverpool and works as a hospital domestic, has published under this name, but he’d already written several others under a different pseudonym. In fact, Clyde and Kev were supporting characters in an entirely different series.
That earlier series isn’t connected to Hourglass, though, and James says those books were somewhat messy attempts at storytelling from an inexperienced writer. As he worked on his craft and his writing improved, there was still something about those two characters from the old stories that spoke to him. The idea of having a relationship between two friends at the center of the story worked well with James’ skillset as an author.
“I enjoy writing multiple protagonists because it helps keep the plot fresh for me,” he says. “I enjoy multiple characters so long as they’re developed and not shallow; in fact, everything I have written also focuses heavily on the antagonists, too, because I believe they should be just as pivotal and active. Without fleshed-out and colorful enemies, the heroes and their hardships feel very flat and static to me.”
James joins a rich history of fantasy creators who have built a wide cast of characters. He says some of his biggest influences are TV writers and filmmakers like Joss Whedon and James Gunn as well as comic-book creators like Mike Mignola and Jack Kirby. As to how his own writing stacks up against that of his heroes? According to Kirkus, Hourglass is “bursting its seams with imaginative ideas, backstory, combat scenes, and developing relationships.”
James grew up devouring all the comics, action movies, scary books, and whatever genre fiction he could find. He filled himself up with so many stories that finally, when he was a university student, he decided to make a few stories of his own. Despite the critiques a more mature James has of his earliest attempts at writing, he enjoyed the process so much from the start that he kept on writing and writing and writing, working on improving his stories as he went.
James is about as deep into genre fiction as it’s possible to be, but despite the volumes of books and movies out there, he still finds himself creating the kinds of stories he likes the most and finds the least. The shadowy organization in Hourglass is written in the style of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense in Mike Mignola’s iconic Hellboy comics, a specific take on the urban fantasy genre that James says he struggles to find. “That type of world always gets my blood going,” he says, “though I must admit I am continually struggling to find an urban fantasy series [that] leans more into this type of world of violent supernatural superheroics as opposed to fairies, magic, and vampire/lycan/wizard private investigators. So to any new readers I’d probably just say, ‘Think Hellboy,’ instead of telling them it’s urban fantasy.”
Beyond praising the characters themselves, Kirkus calls the book’s action scenes “densely choreographed with verve, intelligence, and plenty of operatic (or maybe comic book–like) action,” a description that should attract readers looking for propulsive fantasy stories of any kind, urban fantasy, action fantasy, or otherwise. If they agree with Kirkus’ assessment, there are at least two more books to come in the series.
Book 2, The Ferryman’s Toll, is set to come out in 2022, and James has a plot outline for Book 3, Strange Fates. But as to how many books Clyde and Kev will star in? James isn’t sure yet. “I have no intention of running it into the ground, and I’m a firm believer in servicing the story, allowing it to be as long or short as necessary,” he says.
When James isn’t writing, he’s still reading all the books and comics and watching all the movies he loves. He also enjoys playing guitar and has even played the bass in a few bands. Readers can find James’ books, including stories that aren’t part of the Hourglass series, and sign up for email updates on his website.
Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.