The Long Way Down is the first book in a series about Daniel Faust, a sorceror in Las Vegas. He’s a weary, somewhat bitter man trying to survive in a hostile world. Schaefer gives us another addition to the throng of bitter wizards with dark pasts who have to make tough choices currently populating the urban fantasy genre.
It’s not to be denied that there is a distinct and detailed archetype for urban fantasy protagonists at the moment. They tend to wear trenchcoats. They’ve been unlucky in love. They don’t just rely on magic to get things done. They favour direct action over polite politicking, and aren’t afraid to upset the established order. Faust is definitely one of them.
There’s nothing wrong with that – there are four books out at the moment, so Schaefer definitely isn’t just jumping wholesale on the bandwagon. And its an archetype that I have a lot of time for, one that has been popular at least since Raymond Chandler, and (depending on how you define it) long before him. There’s nothing wrong with varying on an established theme – a handsome prince, a square-jawed space marine, an unshaven wizard.
That’s what The Long Way Down is – Schaefer’s exploration of a theme played with by Butcher and Hearne and Jacka and a host of others. The basic concept remains the same, but the plot, and the setting and the minutiae of characters alter. I should stress again that I am entirely okay with this – I’d be interested in seeing a wider variety of protagonists, but I’ll happily read as many books about depressed mages as are available.
So, a new wizard (Faust), and a new city (Las Vegas); I’m currently unaware of any American wizards who share cities. Faust takes a job looking into the death of a young woman, and uncovers a wider conspiracy. From dealing with one dead girl, he’s suddenly connected to a string of murders around a city, organised crime, demons, and a rare and dangerous artifact.
There’s a lot of magic on display – various other sorcerers, moving bars, hell as a setting not just a concept. However, Faust doesn’t actually use much magic himself, and magic isn’t explored in massive detail. Most of the time, Faust is more of a mundane investigator than a sorcerer.
When he does use magic, it’s card-based, rather like Gambit. He also makes use of stage magic – sleight of hand and such. It’s a nice conceit, and fitting for his city. Faust is more concerned with image than Dresden is, more stylish and controlled. That’s something I rather like; spellcasters should, I feel, have a sense of style.
There is a romantic subplot, though I felt it was one of the more underdeveloped strands of the narrative. His love interest is a succubus, and the whole “suck your soul” out aspect is skated over very lightly. I would have preferred a slower burn there, with more attention paid to the difficulties that such a relationship faces – Richelle Mead managed to get a full series from (mostly) just that conflict.
The book ends neatly, wrapping everything up with some clever action near the end. Action, I felt, was one of the main positives of this book – it’s detailed without dragging, providing the combat – magical and otherwise – with a sense of weight.
Overall, I rather liked this book – it’s pacey and original enough within its formula. Schaefer plays a lot with the reputation of Las Vegas, the glitz over squalor, and that comes through in the protagonist as well. He’s a many-layered character, and I’m interested to see how he evolves.
However, broadly speaking, I’m reserving judgement on this series at the moment, at least until I’ve read book two. It’s competent, with all of the right elements in the right places, but urban fantasy series tend to start slow and then get more interesting in later books. Looking just at Stormfront gives you an inaccurate picture of what the later Dresden Files books are like , for example.
So – The Long Way Down is perfectly readable and enjoyable, but I’m not sure how well it stacks up against the other series in the genre. It’s definitely better than most, but I want to see if the series lives up to its promise in later books.