I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Devil's Call by J. Danielle Dorn
Published by Inkshares on July 18 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A bleak and violent story, made beautiful by exquisite writing and an irresistible female voice.
I hope you grow up to be a wild one, that you learn to spit and curse and shoot a gun. This country is not kind to soft women.
This book came out of nowhere, but when fellow blogger Mogsy raved about it, I knew I had to track it down and read it. Inkshares is a new-to-me publisher, but if Devil’s Call is anything to go by, I’ll certainly start paying more attention to them. This was a short, fast read, but not just because of the page count. I could NOT stop reading once I started! The story is a first person accounting of a woman’s search for vengeance, written in the form of a letter to her baby daughter. The woman, a mixed race, fatherless girl named Li Lian, recounts the story of her life from childhood up to the present time, delving back into her family’s rich history of witchcraft to tell the story of her fascinating—but bleak—life. Not only is this a story about witchcraft, but it’s a western, set in the 1850s and moving from Chicago to the untamed Nebraska territory to New Orleans.
Li Lian’s real adventure begins when she meets and falls in love with her future husband, an Army doctor named Matthew Callahan. They eventually marry and begin their lives together in the bustling but dangerous city of Chicago. Li Lian fears raising their children in the city, partly because she’s of mixed race and her children will be too. Matthew is worried that someone will find out that his wife is a witch, and so they jump at the chance to move to Nebraska when Matthew is offered a job there.
Finally free to get pregnant and raise a family without fear of persecution, Li Lian sets about making a wonderful life for their growing family in the wide open spaces of the plains. But one night two strangers come to the door, begging for medical help. One of them has been shot, and it’s Matthew’s duty as a doctor to help. In an instant, things go terribly wrong, and Li Lian watches as her husband is shot and killed right in front of her. Full of rage and determination, Li Lian sets out to track down the men responsible for her husband’s murder, accompanied by the town butcher, a man named Roger Hawking.
This book was so addictive, which is mostly due to the wonderful voice of Li Lian. Dorn’s writing perfectly captures a strong woman who is trying to get by in a male dominated world, where violence, harsh weather, and other hardships are all obstacles that she faces on a daily basis. I have to admit I’m addicted to sweeping stories that encompass the entirety of a character’s life. Li Lian’s story begins with her ancestors the MacPhersons, a Scottish clan where the females are all gifted with magical abilities. But as cool as that sounds, the MacPherson women were harshly persecuted for practicing witchcraft—and even Li Lian and her mother, aunts and sisters must be careful to hide their abilities.
And there is something irresistible about a Western setting for me, especially when you combine that setting with magic. Dorn’s imagery is spare and evocative, and I could practically feel the heat of the sun and the grit of the dusty plains as I was reading. And like the best Westerns, the characters are in constant danger. The violence often comes out of nowhere, shockingly sudden, and perfectly captures the lawlessness of the wild west.
I loved the magic of Li Lian’s witchcraft, which enhances the story rather than taking it over. Li Lian can use her Will to make things happen, from moving small objects with her mind to affecting the way a person acts. She can also make vines bloom simply by touching them, and I loved the way her magic was elemental, earth magic. But every time she uses magic, there is a price, and so Li Lian must choose carefully when to use it.
To kill a man with magick is no task to take on lightly. It is difficult enough to do good with it, and to kill a man takes something from the soul of the one who does the taking.
While Li Lian is the driving force behind this story—and one of the best characters I’ve run across this year—I also adored Roger Hawking. Although the relationship between Hawking and Li Lian never crosses the line into a romantic one (hey, she just lost her husband!), I thought their banter was adorable. If Devil’s Call is ever made into a movie, I know exactly who should play the part of Roger Hawking: Adam Baldwin, who played Jayne in Firefly. I could not read his dialog without imagining Jayne’s sarcastic drawl!
The pacing is relentless, and so I was a little worried as I neared the end that Dorn was not going to be able to wrap things up. The ending did feel a little rushed to me, which is my only criticism of the story. A lot happens as Li Lian and Hawking get closer to their target, and within a span of a few pages everything manages to come to a head. A twist that I didn’t see coming ends the story with the possibility of a sequel, or maybe that’s just me wishing really hard!
This was a fantastic surprise and an assured debut. I can’t wait to see what J. Danielle Dorn does next.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.