First off, I should make clear that this is a short story set in the universe of the author’s first full-length novel, “Sorcerer Rising.” Why didn’t I take the more sensible option of reviewing that instead? Well, I came across “Broker of the Damned” first whilst perusing that day’s published titles, and it was under a dollar.
Having established that I may not have appreciated certain nods and references to his previous title set in the same world due to my miserly nature, let’s get on with the show!
Set in a parallel version of our Earth, Deputy Magistrate Matt Ewing is a Witch licensed by the U.S. government to track and police rogue Wizards and Sorcerers using their powers for nefarious means. First of all, let me just say that I always get a funny little kick out of male characters being referred to as witches. I’ve come across it a couple of times in video games and literature and it just always makes me grin. I don’t know why.
The short story begins with out hard-boiled protagonist (“I’ve heard the sizzle, give me the steak”) taking over the interrogation of a possessed low-life apprehended by the regular/Muggle? police. Someone in the city has been illicitly selling souls and the onus is on Ewing to track this supernatural criminal down.
Dealing with angels and demons and all other manner of supernatural foe requires some sort of magic or power–when doesn’t it?–and The Craft used in the book is interesting. This magic system is one of sacrifice and power (it reminded me of a fantasy book I read years ago about a magician who awakes at a monastery but I can’t remember the name of it) and to that end Ewing has a demonic familiar, Eleazar, entwined around his soul. Eleazar is a demonic, black cat. I’ll be honest, I was hoping for a slightly more original form.
One aspect which did rub me a little the wrong way was the statement that the pieces of his soul Ewing sacrifices, he can grow back. Makes the whole process seem pretty trite, doesn’t it? I’d always imagined the human soul to be a finite thing. If it’s that easy for someone to sell half their soul and then have it grow back in the week, we’d all have demon butlers, wouldn’t we?
I did find the breadth of the story a shame though considering the magical diversity touched upon in this universe. Ewing’s colleagues at the Magistrate’s office use entirely different magical means and service is paid to the differing mythical traditions throughout Europe and Africa: Shamanism, Druidism and Ifrit magic, etc. It certainly was a breath of fresh air considering the typically homogeneous magic systems you typically find in the fantasy genre.
Now, to briefly be a pedant, Mr. Sisk did twice commit a grammatical sin which seriously grates on me. It is: “We’d have,” not “We’d of.” Grrrrrr. There are a few typos here and there as you might expect from a self-published title–I imagine most self-published authors proofread their own work–but nothing major.
All in all, an enjoyable urban fantasy which doesn’t feel the need to be too gritty or comical as so many do. This short story is short, only a little over 40 pages, but for just under a dollar it’s worth the price of entry. It’s a shame I hadn’t read “Sorcerer Rising” beforehand but I now may do so in the near future.