Vicious Circle: Bigger and Better

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book review Mike Carey Vicious Circle Felix Castor 2Vicious Circle by Mike Carey

Out of all of the urban fantasy novels that I read in 2007, Mike Carey’s prose debut (The Devil You Know) was one of my favorites. Basically, Mr Carey took everything that I love about the genre — including the supernatural tangoing with the ordinary, mixing humor with horror, and creating a protagonist that is impossible not to root for — and gave the formula a refreshing makeover. Even so, there was room for improvement and in Vicious Circle Mike Carey has delivered a sequel that is in every way bigger and better than its predecessor.

For one, the writing is sharper. By that, I mean the story is better plotted, the pacing is more consistent, and the voice of Felix Castor is more vibrant, particularly his ability to describe London with such unique flair, and a talent for clever barbs, descriptive metaphors and humorous commentary:

  • Harlesden is like Kilburn without the scenic beauty — the stamping ground of Jamaican gangsters with itchy trigger fingers, predatory minicab drivers whose cars are their offices, and a great nation of feral cats.
  • So. You’re dead, then. How’s that working out?
  • I prowled about the house all day like a hermit with hemorrhoids.
  • Another reason is that I’m an unsociable bastard who hates shoptalk worse than dental surgery.

Secondly, the supporting cast is wilder and more creative. So not only do we have such memorable returning characters as conspiracy-theorist zombie Nicky, succubus Juliet, and the demon-possessed Rafi, but we also get to meet such colorful new characters as the Ice-Maker — a faith-healer who deals exclusively with zombies — a five-hundred year old ghost named Rosie Crucis, and a pair of nasty Catholic loup-garous (were-kin) in Zucker & Po.

Speaking of creative, the plot in Vicious Circle is excellent, mixing together noir-esque mystery and misdirection with such paranormal fun as a kidnapped ghost, necromancy, human sacrifices, satanists, and a haunted church/congregation. Also included in the cocktail is the Anathemata Curialis — an old sect of the Catholic Church that opposes the forces of hell — the Collective which is a floater community for exorcists, the Post Mortem Rights Bill, and a new branch of science called metamorphic ontology which I believe will feature more prominently in future Felix Castor novels, along with such yet-to-be explored subplots as giving the dead legal protection, what happens to ghosts when exorcists dispel them, why there is such an influx of the returning dead in recent years, and where demons fit in the picture…

As far as complaints, I thought Vicious Circle followed the pattern of its predecessor a little too closely, some of the noir-influenced elements were a bit predictable, and characters like Pen and his brother Matt are still underutilized, but otherwise the sequel is a huge step up from The Devil You Know.

CONCLUSION: As good as The Devil You Know was, the book was still a debut effort and it shows when compared to Mike Carey’s sequel which is just an all-around much stronger novel, be it content, execution or imagination. Not only that, but Vicious Circle is a lot more fun to read, too. Simply put, I think Mike Carey is one of the most exciting new authors in supernatural fiction today and I can’t recommend the Felix Castor series enough.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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