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The Left-Hand Way is the second novel in American author Tom Doyle’s American Craft series and is pretty much a direct sequel to his début novel American Craftsmen which I enjoyed immensely. I had been looking forward to the release of this novel and was not at all disappointed. Doyle continues his excellent writing craft and deft original touches which avoid the usual pitfalls of the genre. Keep an eye on Doyle and absolutely read this book.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy meets ancient magic, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance

Poe’s Red Death returns, more powerful than ever. Can anyone stop him before he summons an apocalyptic nightmare even worse than himself?

In this second book of Tom Doyle’s contemporary fantasy series, the American craftsmen are scattered like bait overseas. What starts as an ordinary liaison mission to London for Major Michael Endicott becomes a desperate chase across Europe, where Endicott is both hunted and hunter. Reluctantly joining him is his minder from MI13, Commander Grace Marlowe, one of Her Majesty’s most lethal magician soldiers, whose family has centuries of justified hostility to the Endicotts.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul and Tokyo, Endicott’s comrades, Scherie Rezvani and Dale Morton, are caught in their own battles for survival against hired assassins and a ghost-powered doomsday machine. And in Kiev, Roderick Morton, the spider at the centre of a global web, plots their destruction and his ultimate apotheosis. After centuries of imprisonment, nothing less than godlike power will satisfy Roderick, whatever the dreadful cost.

So when we last left Dale Morton and Michael Endicott they’d basically been forced to cut off their collective nose to spite their face. In dealing with the dangers of what was happening at the Pentagon, they inadvertently created a much greater danger which is now the focus of this second instalment of what I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say will be a trilogy. Doyle is still in absolutely fine form with what must be a Doyle craft of avoiding common writing pitfalls. He even manages to make what I’m confident is a middle book not actually feel like a middle book. The plot of The Left-Hand Way is a full and complete story with a great and very intense finale while still leaving the door open for an equally great third act.

One of the largest changes in this second book, which I heartily approve of, is the backing away from the military aspects of the first book. I enjoy a good military SF story as much as a good contemporary fantasy story, and I rightly praised Doyle for doing a great job interweaving them in my review of his first book. That said, I really feel that the main strength of Doyle’s writing is his characters, and their ability to emote and be biased and screw up. The military aspects of the first novel detracted from this a little bit. A military setting creates an enforced formality and discipline that, I now realise in retrospect, made me not appreciate his character development as much as I would have. I’m glad that he’s moved away from the military setting as it allows his other qualities to shine.

While there is a plot point to this novel that various things that happen might actually end up outing the existence of Craft to the rest of the world in general, the kinds of things that are described as no-nos seem like the kind of things that would have happened before or at least would crop up as a near-miss a lot more than they do. While I definitely believe their concerns that common knowledge of craft would result, in many places, in a return to the witch hunting days, there’s such profligate use of power throughout this novel that the idea that no curious eyes were drawn to it seems pretty absurd. When Chinese Craft weather controllers are trying to bring down an aircraft by throwing weather at it while Dale is on board countering their attacks with weather craft of his own, that stuff has to be showing up on satellite. I don’t think they get away from that with ‘it was a weather balloon.’ I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how much fallout came from the events here which, in all fairness, were really not a long span of time, but something needs to happen about how much of this was done where others could see it.

Overall, this really was a great book. Doyle’s characters have heart and soul and are believable and have a level of internal consistency you rarely see after only one or two books as a character. They grow and change in realistic ways and you feel like you both know them, and know that their actions match the person you know. The pacing and action are fantastic as well. The portrayal of combat magic feels real in a way very much like reading traditional combat written by authors who have direct experience with it, a fact I won’t read anything into. As a magic system, for being one largely based on the individual will of the practitioner, it still feels like there are logical rules underpinning it. I feel that I have a handle on what is or isn’t possible with it, which is vitally important for me to properly enjoy a system of magic. I’ve resisted as best I can constantly using ‘craft’ for the pun value, but this really is a well-crafted world and system, and I’m excited for the third instalment, of which I know zero logistical details, but which looks like it will be pretty stellar.

Dan received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from the Author.

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