Lore and Order is set, unlike most urban fantasy or anything else, in the North of England. Jameson Parker is a warlock whose job is to investigate magical crimes. The novel opens with him investigating arson attacks in Humberside, but obviously things get far more complicated in short order.
It’s the first book in a new series, The Warlocks of Whitehall, and only seems to have come out last month. It seems that I will be waiting awhile for the sequel, but I’ll buy it when it arrives.
The book seems heavily inspired by Dresden and Constantine, but that is par for the course – Jim Butcher seems to be the dominant force in urban fantasy, and has spawned countless imitators. Like Harry Dresden, and Constantine, and a host of others, Jameson Parker is a disreputable wizard whose life is empty and noir-esque. Like them, Parker has a past filled with associations with the dark, and memories of a woman he once betrayed. Like them, he has little patience for authority, and a tendency to practice diplomacy through headbutts.
That’s all fine by me – it may not be the most original archetype, but it is very satisfying to read about. Such characters tend to do interesting things in interesting places, and are perpetual underdogs; it is hard not to get caught up in their struggle against foes both powerful and kind of smug. When Dresden/Verus/Constantine/Parker/et cetera finally gets to kick back against the forces that have been pushing him down for ninety percent of the book, it feels good. Urban fantasy, I find, tends to be extremely cathartic.
The author (Steve Peacock) adds enough that is original to keep from just being an imitator – the aforementioned setting (hardly anything takes place in the North of England – not even in the real world) is refreshing, and Parker’s narration establishes him as distinct. There is an overall English feel to the book – plots are UK-based, not world ending, and the full might of the magical establishment is mired in petty bureaucracy (rather reminiscent of Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files, though not carried as far into satire). The world is smaller than a lot of other fictional ones – he doesn’t skip continents or enter vast and trackless caverns beneath the Humber. That allows for a slightly more human story, with moments of pathos in amongst the spell-slinging.
The book is in first person, with Parker narrating events from slightly in the future. It’s a very conversational style, which is easy to get dragged into and along by, though it does occasionally get in the way of the action; you are definitely being told a story by the protagonist (with all the expected interruptions and minor digressions) rather than witnessing events in real time. That does help soften the inevitable comparisons to The Dresden Files though, as action sequences are Butcher’s obvious strong point – the slight detachment shows the differences between the two series, and gives it a gentler tone.
I do have one complaint as to the language used. It was pointed out to me half-way through the book that the world lacks fantasy novels containing wizards with strong Yorkshire accents. There are Scouse accents and Irish ones and even Southern ones, but no such soft slow tone is readily apparent. I’d rather like to read a broad Dales’ character discussing the walls between the worlds, or the perils of the black arts. Once the opportunity was pointed out to me, I found myself hoping that such a character would be introduced. Alas, none was forthcoming. I will wait in the hope that the next book’s antagonist fits the mold.
The current fashion is for subtle exposition, to gently sneak in the worldbuilding so that the easily-distracted reader does not get bored of all the background and skip to a book with more immediate explosions. Peacock does this well, teasing out details over several chapters, but I’ve never been a fan of such slow burn; I’d have preferred more explanation up-front. Yes, it kept my interest to not know what the Vault was until most of the way through, but it frustrates me to not have all the information I want at once. That isn’t a criticism of the book really – it is, again, the modern fashion, and Peacock does it well, I just wish there was a slightly quicker fashion. It should be less of an issue in the sequel though – I have a handle on how the world works now.
The plot is complex, with several twists and turns, leaving hints for an even greater threat further down the line: all the things you want from a book, particularly the first of several. I didn’t guess the ending too early, which is always nice. All in all, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but it was entertaining – interesting solutions to problems, characters I didn’t hate, and sometimes genuinely funny prose. Absolutely worth reading if you like The Dresden Files or urban fantasy in general.