Spells, Salt & Steel #1-4
Publisher: Falstaff Books
Characters: Mark, Chiara, Blair, Fr Leo, Sara, and others
Genre: Contemporary, Urban Fantasy
“When all else fails, the ass end of a carp makes a damn fine weapon.”
Your new favorite monster hunter has arrived! Bubba the Monster Hunter has some competition in this horror comedy collection from best-selling author duo Gail Z. & Larry N. Martin!
By day, Mark Wojcik can be found elbow-deep in engine grease, making cars and trucks safe for the highway. By night, he can be found traipsing through the wilds of Pennsylvania, making the world safe for humans. He’s more than just a mechanic, he’s a New Templar Knight. He travels the backroads and byways fighting weresquonks, ningen, selkies, ghosts, and…gnomes? Is that gnome…naked? (sigh).
Season One collects the first four novellas in the Spells, Salt, & Steel series –
Spells, Salt, & Steel
This collection is the first four novellas in the series. Each novella read like short stories over a few chapters—or different cases Mark investigates—which tie together with a common theme or magical artifact. I loved reading that way, as I could read one or more of his cases, or a novella, in one sitting.
I loved Mark as a character, and the tone of these. Written in first person, his personality came across very well. He feels very much like an everyman with his reactions. The interior monologue/narrative feels very down to earth, and is fun to read, yet not at the expense of the action and tension. The banter is wonderful, and an added bonus for me is that he’s a bit of a geek and his knowledge of Japanese comes from watching anime so there is a fair bit of pop culture and anime references!
I really felt for Mark and his survivors’ guilt after his family are killed. I thought that came across very realistically. I liked that it never really went away, as it’s something you wouldn’t ever really get over, and that he lives with the consequences every day. It’s sad that he views having to socialize with those outside his immediate ‘family’ as more scary than the monsters he hunts.
The supporting cast aka his friends and family are wonderful. I loved Chiara and Blair, and their relationship, and how Mark has built himself a new extended family and support network. Chiara’s family are interesting, and I wouldn’t want to cross them! Fr Leo definitely isn’t your typical priest and it was interesting seeing the Occulatum from the flip side of other books I’ve read by this author. As an aside I liked that he and Mark are on the older side of your typical action hero as Mark is in his mid 30s, and Leo is 40. It brought a realistic sense of experience to the story, both life and their history of hunting. Donny, the nerdy werewolf is a wonderful addition to the cast. Sara rocks, and I hope she and Mark continue their relationship.
I also liked that this series is set in his home town and the history that comes with that as he’s grown up with many of the people he interacts with. The small town feel comes across well, and is a nice contrast with the monster hunting. The settings—both town and back woods—come across almost like characters in their own right, and I got the feeling of rich history. I love that the authors draw on the mythology of the area—it adds to the layers and texture of the stories, and left me wanting to learn more.
One of the strength of these is that Mark and his friends don’t just go in blindly, but do their research first, even if they end up improvising—and blowing stuff up—when things don’t go according to plan. I love how this series hooks into the other series I’ve read by these authors, and I was especially happy when Simon from Badlands helped Mark out with his research. I also liked that Mark can’t just waltz in anywhere and take down the monsters, but has to make sure he has a license for his visible weapon and provide a feasible explanation for the police.
One of my favourite monsters in this collection has to be the weresquonk. I had to look it up as I hadn’t heard of it before, and the squonk is a ‘real’ mythical creature from the Pennsylvania area as are the other monsters Mark goes up against. A lot of thought has gone into this series, and it shows.
The descriptions of the various monsters are wonderful, and vivid. I love the history of this universe, and there is a real sense of history within the world building with the Occulatum, and the Feral Fey Accords of 2011, which come in handy when a gnome needs relocating! Like many seasons of a TV show, this ends with the introduction of something not boding well for the future. I hope we don’t have too long to wait.
I’d recommend Spells, Salt & Steel Season One to readers who enjoy urban fantasy based on mythology, a down to earth realistic hero, fantastic banter, and a crew who feel like family. 5 out of 5 stars.