What a ride! Caligation is the name of the town—city? Let’s go with city—that Ripley Mason, our MC, finds himself mysteriously in after a terrible car accident. Struggling to understand how he got there and how to leave, Ripley starts wandering deeper into the city where he finds everyone has an effigia—think animal familiar—and some of the people are very much like vampires, while others are pretty much shapeshifters, and then others can manipulate a certain natural element, while others are just boring humans, but with the animal, of course. Everything is new and strange, and unfamiliar to Ripley who just wants to LEAVE, but can’t figure out HOW, and neither can anyone else he encounters in this strange place. Which lands Ripley in a metric ton of trouble as he inadvertently gets himself mixed up with the underground gangs in his quest to figure out what’s going on, and how he can get out of Caligation before it kills him.
I thought the premise of this book was fascinating. I loved the different races, the prejudices they held against one another, and that everyone has an animal familiar that they can talk to telepathically. Stokes did a wonderful job world building “Caligation” and figuring out the rules and systems each of these groups would need to follow, and how that would impact others, which made all the new systems that the reader learns alongside Ripley relatively easy to pick up on. All the characters felt fleshed out; Ripley and Ajax’s interactions were just lovely, as were Zero and Archer’s. The flow and pace of the book meant that, even with very long chapters, nothing felt like a slog to get through. For anyone who likes urban fantasy, this was a pleasure to read! But there were a few things that I found to be a bit less than stellar.
For as robust as the world and creatures are, you don’t necessarily see a lot of all the different types. This is especially true for the Aspectors (people who can manipulate elements like fire and stone). So while this group is pivotal, you don’t get to see much of them or what their plight might be in Caligation compared to the other races. The gang wars become so central to everything that Ripley is involved with, that it can feel over powering when compared to the mystery that Ripley finds himself in. Additionally, there were some continuity issues I found to be pretty glaring, especially towards the end.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll try to be vague here. But when the central question of “how did Ripley get to Caligation and why can’t he leave”, gets resolved, it felt like a cop-out once I actually got there. Which wasn’t until the 90% mark, give or take, mind you. When we get those answers, it made me kind of scratch my head in regards to Ripley’s familiar, for he does have one in Caligation! But as things get explained, how Ripley and his familiar come together gets a bit wobbly. Plus, considering how the whole book was meant to be about how Ripley got to this strange new place, that when we finally get to the point where answers are nigh, it takes up maybe a few pages of explanation and then it’s just… over? It felt disproportional to the action and drama of the rest of the book with Ripley getting involved with mobsters and fighting shapeshifters… It was just unfortunate because of how exciting the rest of the story was, is all I’m saying.
Honestly, this book was awesome and I did really enjoy it. The dialogue, characters, and the world itself were all very well crafted. So if you like gritty urban fantasy with flavors of old-school mobsters and turf wars, you WILL like this book, especially if you enjoy some really creative fantasy elements with the different creatures. But I am a stickler for plot holes and continuity issues like the ones I mentioned… I’m really let down by that stuff because everything else was just so good! So I’ve been teetering between a 3.5 and 4 star on this one just because Stokes is clearly an amazing writer, but the problem with the ending is a real problem in my opinion… But you know what? I did enjoy this, so we’ll round up to 4 stars. Never underestimate the power of an entertaining read, my friends! And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review!
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