I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Uncanny Collateral is an entertaining, fast-paced urban fantasy novella that packed a surprising amount of character development for its size.
McClellan was best known for his Powder Mage trilogy which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. His ongoing Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy which is based off the same world is reputedly even better than his debut efforts but I’ve yet to read them; something which I intend to rectify sometime in the future. If this novella was anything to go by, his writing now has an even more natural and practised ease that flows and ebbs with the story. In Powder Mage, the writing was slightly clunkier in the first book, but improvements were noticeable as we progressed to the third one.
In Uncanny Collateral, I didn’t notice the writing at all, which to me is a good thing. Prose should either stand-out for being beautiful or impactful, or disappear into the storytelling altogether. Usually, when I say a book is easy to read, I don’t mean that it is simple in the sense of low intelligence, but in that, it is not embellished or overly complicated until it detracts from the story. Of course, urban fantasy tended to be easier to read, and I liked how McClellan managed to fit his writing to the urban setting and faster-paced narrative.
There had been a lot of great novellas in recent years. Straddling between a short story and a novel, the length of a novella provides a nice not-so-little diversion from bigger fantasy reads. I don’t doubt for a moment though that novellas can be tricky to write; to achieve balance between worldbuilding, plot and character development with significantly fewer words. Which means numerous subplots and a large cast of characters are a no-no. In this respect, I will say that McClellan’s first novella effort was a commendable one with superb pacing, lively action and excellent character development.
“My name is Alek Fitz. I’m a reaper for Valkyrie Collections, and I’ve come to collect your debt.”
In this case, the debt is a human soul owed to one of the many Lords of Hell; souls traded in return for human desires such as power, wealth or success. And hence, why our main protagonist’s job is called reaping. This does not mean that the human will die once his or her soul has been collected; it merely leaves the person rather empty inside (yeah, well, that is a bit of an understatement). The plot is pretty straightforward as the chief reaper himself sought out the help of Valkyrie Collections to help investigate a recent slew of missing souls, which is causing a lot of problems in hell. Alek was put on the case; together with his secret sidekick, Maggie, an ancient djinn who lived in a ring.
In spite of having fewer words to work with, we do get enough of Alek’s backstory to empathise with him and how he became a reaper. His characterisation was crafted seamlessly into the flow of events and his interactions with Maggie and other individuals without breaking the momentum in the story. The dialogue and banter were enjoyable and felt uncontrived. I especially loved the scenes between Alek and Death.
The worldbuilding itself was fascinating. We are talking about an earth where humans and the supernatural (termed the Others) co-exist under specific Rules and contracts. We get imps, goblins, vampires, djinns and even Death himself. Even Alek is a half-troll, half-human, which certainly made him more interesting. There also seemed to be a not-so-subtle jab at capitalism with the notion that the various Lords of Hell run most of the big corporations.
Uncanny Collateral is an excellent urban fantasy debut by an author who has already proven adept at epic fantasy. I will read the second book in a heartbeat. I also found out the audiobook is narrated by the incredibly talented Luke Daniels; there is no one better suited for fast-paced UF filled with banter and action.
This self-published book will be released on 2 April.