About ten pages into Pacific Fire, I was reminded immediately of just how startlingly original, intriguing, and engrossing California Bones had been. Immediately I was transported back into this fascinating world of Greg Van Eekhout’s alternate Los Angeles (a city that is perhaps the most pervasive and enticing character in the book). Daniel’s blend of desperation and hope, desire and denial, drive and decay, is so toxic and yet so spellbinding as to be wrenchingly hard to disengage for even a moment. It’s a book that when you leave, won’t leave you.
Story: Ten years after the events of California Bones, Daniel has carefully protected the “Treasure of Los Angeles.” On the run, constantly moving, avoiding all magical attempts to locate him, he has brought up Sam, the Hierarch’s son/golem, to teen years. At 17, Sam barely has time to make friends, let along date girls or do any of the things a teen would do. For if any of the warlord powers of Los Angeles, now suddenly even more powerful in the vacuum of the Hierarch’s death, caught Sam, he would be ground up and eaten, his body one of the greatest osteomantic resources in the world. But Sam and Daniel’s hands will be forced when the warlords ally to create a monster – a game changer Pacific Fire Drake reanimation that will literally destroy most of California if allowed to be completed. As powerful as Daniel is – can he save both Sam and Los Angeles from this new threat? For it is very likely that only Sam or Daniel have enough magic in their bones to reanimate the dragon.
First and foremost, one of the biggest criticisms of California Bones had been that it was essentially a heist novel rather than an urban fantasy. With Pacific Fire, the story moves forward quite a bit and is definitely much more than ‘rob the bank.’ We’re given both Sam and Daniel’s POVs (as well as DWP head Argent – the water mancer) and quite a few of the characters from the first novel have returned. They’ve grown older or changed – but it was a welcome aspect that the book didn’t simply go off in a new direction. It’s a big world picture now, with Sam and Daniel forced to deal with the consequences of the Hierarch’s death. Layers were added to the original story as we see Sam grow up and deal with the legacy of being a Hierarch’s golem and sacrifices from Daniel to keep him alive. Fortunately, Van Eekhout smartly chose to eschew teen angst and Sam is just as intriguing a character as Daniel.
Although California Bones had quite a few surprises, the twists and turns in Pacific Fire had me guessing at every turn. There were many “Whoa!” moments in there and despite what the plot summary says, this was definitely not a ‘travel from point a to b’ road trip. There was a lot going on beyond the very grounded story of Daniel and Sam – Argent and Max were a surprisingly welcome POV since I found their side of the story quite interesting. Both characters were complex and made the book that much richer. And the other characters were also equally fascinating. It was actually a treat with each new character introduction.
To say that Pacific Fire was atmospheric would be an understatement. Those who shy away from urban fantasy or modern milieu should really reconsider this series. The Southern California of Pacific Fire/California Bones is so unrecognizable (and yet so achingly familiar to those of us who were raised there) that the story wass completely immersive. And unlike so many fantasy or urban fantasy where the danger is understated and not very frightening, Van Eekhout’s Los Angeles and those who live within are so very much different and yet so very real. Their danger is palpable and never understated in unrealistic heroics. The story works and it works very well.
The best thing about this series is that it is easy to read and flows smoothly. Since the characters are so human, so flawed, so much of the story is nuanced and very clever. As with most good books, this is both deceptively simple in plot but powerfully complex in characterization. By the end, I was ready for the next book immediately. It will be a frustrating wait for book three.
Highly recommended – a very easy 5-star rating. Reviewed from an advanced reader copy provided by the publisher.