Review: Good Guys
Sometimes I wonder if Urban Fantasy is stuck in the year 2005. Vampires. Werewolves. Angels. The Fae. And then once in a while, lo and behold, I find a novel that fulfills a certain niche: mages versus mages. Except this isn’t Hogwarts, or Harry Dresden walking into yet another CSI murder scene that turns into the Fae having a turf war. No. It’s Steven Brust, author of the acclaimed Vlad Taltos series, returning with his first standalone in twenty plus years. And it has all the trademarks of Brust’s usual style: dry wit, working-class grit, and a whole lot of talking. GOOD GUYS asks a simple question: Is it good to be working for a shady organization who pays you peanuts for a wage? Maybe.
GOOD GUYS (Amazon) follows Donovan Longfellow, a guy with the instincts to be a classic detective, and his field team. There’s Marci Sullivan and “Hippie Chick” Susan, who fill out the classic trifecta, with Donovan at the helm as their leader of the scholar and the bruiser in their respective roles. The story opens with a murder committed by the unnamed antagonist. From there, Don and the others begin an investigation into a seemingly simple murder. Only, the kind of crimes they investigate involve other sorcerers committing crimes against each other or the general populace. They work for the Foundation, a quasi mage secret society tasked with protecting the world from rogue sorcerers. But the novel and the characters themselves ask an increasingly uncomfortable question: Are they really the good guys?
The story weaves between a series of increasingly gruesome murders that, at first, appear disconnected. But like any good thriller, the connections to the Foundation’s past, and its rival, the Roma Vindices Mystici, tangle, snarl, and build into a larger plot. As Don and his team contend with this seemingly untraceable lone gunman, random victims start to connect to a wider conspiracy, the Foundation’s shady past comes back to bite them in the butt, and the team has to asks themselves this: who can they trust?
There’s a lot to like about GOOD GUYS. It’s a lean three hundred pages, and you can finish it in just a few hours. It’s light. It doesn’t ask too much from the reader, and it will keep you entertained. Brust’s signature dialogue-heavy writing, from his Vlad Taltos days, drives the majority of the story. His prose is crisp, efficient, and has his usual working-class grit. The novel, at least in the beginning, spends a good amount of its initial pages on the downtime between the investigations. It’s not always exciting being a clandestine field mage, and for me personally, I enjoyed this exploration of the team’s lives. It’s not perfect though. I felt at times, especially within the first fifty pages, that it focused a little too much on laundry, eating dinner, and various slice-of-life scenes. But this is remedied by page one hundred.
And the characters do their job. They all possess diverse backgrounds, political beliefs, and serve their roles in the story adequately. I wouldn’t say they’re vibrant or fully realized though. You’ve seen these characters before, but Brust brings his informed political analysis to the story and the characters. The characters feel like average people caught up in something that’s bigger than themselves or their pay grade.
Speaking of characters, the novel is told from a variety of POVs. While this might satisfy plot junkies, those looking for deeper character arcs might be left disappointed. There’s little room to develop all the POVs, given the fact there’s five plus at any given time.
A group of mage investigators wonders if they really do work for the GOOD GUYS. A solid novel with only a few bumps along the way.
On the downside, the novel’s first hundred pages, to be frank, are slow. For a plot-driven thriller, there’s a lack of urgency or gripping circumstances that might turn off more plot devouring readers. Also, the novel switches between first person and third person (It makes sense in the context of the story), but it’s sometimes difficult to tell who is talking with the lack of dialogue tags or identifiers. Not to mention the introduction of additional characters too far into the novel deflates the last third of the story. And while the story wraps up like a good standalone, it’s to be honest… underwhelming. But I think that’s the point. You’re not always saving the world from some grand scale disaster. Sometimes, it’s just a smaller mess you have to clean up.
GOOD GUYS is a solid novel from Brust. There are some bumps along the way, and it’s rough around the edges, but I imagine a sequel (which I hope there will be) will alleviate any lingering issues. If you’re a fan of Brust’s earlier work, or looking for an urban fantasy in a tailored niche (mages vs. mages), I would recommend it. They might be making minimum wage but, sometimes, doing good feels good even if it doesn’t pay the bills.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: A good amount
- Violence: Plenty, sometimes gruesome
- Sex: Implied
***Watch out for an EBR interview with Steven Brust, coming soon.