Geek Lit: The Living End (Daniel Faust Book 3)

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My very first Gabbing Geek article was all about urban fantasy, that subgenre where protagonists are often supernatural individuals, or people with knowledge of supernatural individuals, living in the modern world.

One of the authors and book series I recommended there was Craig Schaefer’s Daniel Faust series.  Faust is a magician living in Las Vegas, a former flunky to a half-demon mobster that does odd jobs.  The third novel in the series, The Living End, wraps up an opening trilogy of novels where Daniel matches wits with the treacherous Lauren Carmichael.  Review with some potential spoilers after the cut.

OK, let’s talk some generalities before getting on to specifics.

Most fans of urban fantasy know the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room is Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden.  If you know of any urban fantasy protagonist, the professional wizard living in Chicago is the guy.  It’s not even uncommon for other authors to make a reference to him.  I’m told Schaefer does so in the next Faust novel, but I haven’t read that one yet and will refrain from confirming so until I have.

There are some similarities between the two characters.  Both Dresden and Faust live in a modern American city, where magic and the supernatural are sort of secret.  There’s no prohibition against revealing those things are real.  It’s more like regular folks scoff at the notion.  Both characters make their livings, at least initially, as a sort of gun for hire, and don’t seem to have much in the way of personal assets to start.  Both have a collection of colorful associates, and both had rotten childhoods.

That’s actually about as far as it goes.  Harry is, above all, a good guy.  He has a strict honor code, and mostly saves the day by gathering the right bunch of allies to confront the big bad at the end, often with a lot of magic and firepower at his disposal.  He’s often amusing for the reader and seems like a decent man to be friends with.

Faust, by contrast, is basically a con man.  He does have a code and prefers not to let innocent people get hurt when things go down, and will bring in his friends in the right roles when necessary, but most of his adventures often deal with him setting up the bad guy for a fall rather than to outpower them.  That’s a good thing, since Faust doesn’t seem to be as magically potent as most of the folks he deals with.  His spells tend to deal with playing cards and some exorcism work.  That’s about it.  He lives much more by his wits, and isn’t above a double-cross to someone who deserves it.

But Faust fits into his world better than Dresden would.  Dresden knows there are benevolent entities out there.  Faust doesn’t.  All Faust knows about are demons and half-demons.  Hell is real.  Heaven is unconfirmed.  The discovery of the Garden of Eden is actually what got the ball rolling for the overaching plot of the villains for the first three novels.  That was not a good thing.  Angels are not nice creatures.  Daniel’s best ally is his girlfriend Caitlyn.  Caitlyn is a centuries old succubus, the “Hound” for the Prince of Hell that runs the Vegas area (nobody’s seen God or the Devil in ages).  And while the “hot supernatural girlfriend” is the sort of cliche I really hate for the most part, Caitlyn really works as a character here.

That’s perhaps Schaefer’s biggest strength.  The idea that there is a Hell and sinners suffer there, with no one having any idea where good people go when they die, should be rather depressing.  It isn’t (completely) because the demons in Schaefer’s world often come across as regular people.  Caitlyn genuinely cares for Faust, gets along well with most of his friends, and works hard to keep creation going because she actually likes Earth.  Aside from complete obedience to her prince, Caitlyn actually comes across as a decent person.  She isn’t the only one.  The third novel features a sloth demon who mostly just wants to sit around watching TV and eating junk food.  His presence causes problems mostly by making everyone around him super lethargic, but that comes across more as a side effect than actual malevolence.  Another demon was depicted as someone trying to be a good wife to a human husband and a good mother to their half-demon offspring.  Schaefer uses Caitlyn to explain these sorts of things to Daniel.  Before he met her, Daniel assumed all half-demons were crazy and evil.  Then he met some through her and found out they were mostly people trying to get by.  Yeah, one such individual runs the local mob, but he’s hardly insane.  Typical mob boss behavior, yeah, but the suggestion is Nicky Angelli didn’t need to be a half-demon to be that sort of person.

Likewise, Faust’s adventures take off fast and barely slow down.  Schaefer knows exactly where to stick a chapter cliffhanger to keep the reader going.  Jim Butcher is the only other urban fantasy writer I know of that can do that to me as a reader.

Anyway, the third book deals with Faust finally finishing his business with super-rich, super-evil developer Lauren Carmichael.  She’d been a thorn in Faust’s side since he accidentally discovered her plans back in the first novel.  Lauren is the type of woman who thinks she knows best how to fix the world, but all her plans involve either the end of creation as we know it or just the mass deaths of a huge portion of the human population.  She and some associates had killed a few of Daniel’s friends, and he was out to make her pay.  Rather than string that plot along, Schaefer ended it with what could make a decent trilogy were it not for a couple loose ends at the conclusion.

If anything, Faust’s dispatching of Lauren seemed almost anti-climactic.  Readers by this point should be familiar with how Faust works.  His attempts to be more of a Dresden-type good guy failed miserably for him in one novel until he switched things up and went back to doing things the way he always had.  As such, when it appeared his scheme was failing, that was probably the clearest indicator to the reader that no, it wasn’t.

The loose ends and the sort of predicable nature of the climax have me giving the book eight half-demons out of ten, with a nine out of ten rating for the first three novels as a whole.  They weren’t devoid of problems, but they were excellent reads and I would recommend them for any fan of urban fantasy.

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