Title: “The Summoning Fire”
Author: David Michael
Release Date: September 23
Price: $9.99 (Kindle: $3.99)
Review copy received from author.
Plot Synopsis: All Reese Howard has left is pain–and a pump-action shotgun. Sam is dead. The Old Man killed her right in front of Reese, a blood sacrifice to fuel his latest power play in Hell on Earth. Reese hopes the Old Man made a mistake, leaving her alive and armed. But she doubts it. He knows she’s coming. The bastard has to know. Whatever. Reese plans to make him pay. And she plans to die trying.
Best line: “But that was the nature of betrayal. If you saw it coming, it wasn’t betrayal.”
The novel opens in an exciting shoot-‘em-up scene that introduces us to our main character, Reese/Reese-Anne, who is an assassin working for an enigmatic half-demon, the Old Man. As it turns out, she’s here to kill him. Why? Simple. He sacrificed her lover, Sam, for more power. Hell on Earth is like a buffet of human tourists for him, and it’s open season on all humans.
Though the novel sets itself up as a revenge story, don’t be fooled — it goes beyond that. Although Reese is trying to avenge Sam’s death, it isn’t as simple as just that, and the Old Man is far more interesting than he initially comes off as.
The writing style is very engaging, to the point, and direct, which helps flesh out the characters. Reese is a compelling protagonist who instantly gains sympathy from the reader not only because her lover has been violently torn away from her but also because the Old Man is a righteous old bugger and he deserves to be shot down. Still, he’s as compelling as he is repulsive. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the author for casting a demon who actually acts like one and doesn’t spend the entire novel moping about his existence and how sorry he was to be born. And he uses a magic language system that isn’t Latin or Anglo-Saxon derived, which is a nice change. Despite his power and his dominion over Hell on Earth, he faces unique anatomical problems during a ritual that make sense but that you wouldn’t normally expect.
Some readers may find the multiple framing story structure to be a bit challenging, but Michael has taken care to begin each chapter with timelines like “Before the Fire” to guide the reader along. Despite the notoriously jumpy technique, I found it effective in that the author had more control in playing with the reader’s expectations and introducing information at the right time that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a conventional, “straight” narrative.
When you find out the history that the Old Man has with Reese and Sam and how he got them to work for him in the first place, you learn that it isn’t as simple as the Old Man being the only one who has done anything wrong. Reese and Sam betrayed him, as did another character, Paul Campbell, and it’s exciting to see how we get from the past to the present.
And the creature/Force/whatever the Summoned is presents an original, sentient being that shakes things up. Although the Old Man has sent it after Reese, commanding it to kill her, things don’t quite turn out that way, and you’ll see why once you read the novel.
The dynamics of Hell are also a strong point, showcasing good world-building that sets itself apart from the various manifestations of Hell that horror writers have used over the years.
A word of caution: this novel contains highly graphic depictions of violence. I’m not talking about cartoon violence. I mean that if you squirm at some highly graphic, sadomasochistic sex scenes, you might want to skip this one, as Michael doesn’t hold back at all. Although this reader welcomes the graphic nature of Michael’s work, some readers may not share the same preference. Demonic punishments (i.e. punishments they receive, not give out) are very creative, but also painful and I almost felt sorry for the Old Man at times.
The ending resonated with me, and when the mystery behind The Summoned finally unravels, you’ll get a great sense of resolution. It’s like a cross between 23 Hours by David Wellington and the Kill Bill films. Horror fans will enjoy this one for sure.