Life and Limb, by Jennifer Roberson (DAW)
A new Jennifer Roberson novel is always a treat, but a new Jennifer Roberson series is a cause for celebration. It should be obvious from my opening sentence that I am a huge fan. I’ve been an avid reader since her debut, Shapechangers (1984, the first “Cheysuli” novel). The way she combines action, ideas, internal struggle, and romance hit just the right notes for me. More importantly, I love how her work has matured and deepened over time. It seems to me that every time she takes a break or begins something new, I see a quantum leap in skill and insight.
Life and Limb, the first volume in her new “Blood and Bone” series, is no exception. She’s begun with a nifty concept: an ex-con biker (Gabriel Harlan) teams up with a clean-cut cowboy (Remi McCue) to fight supernatural nasties and stop the looming apocalypse. And oh yes, they both grew up with a mysterious grandfather, Grandaddy Jubal Horatio Tanner who isn’t human, and neither are they, or not entirely.
In many ways, Life and Limb is the set-up for that conflict, the origin story. Certainly, there’s plenty of action, both internal and external, and a host of adversaries and allies. Grandaddy Jubal has other teams to enlist, so he leaves our heroes in the care of Lily Morrigan (as in “The” Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of war, fate and death). Hell’s vents have opened, pouring forth an army of mythological nasties (ghosts, vampires, black dogs, and the like) which now can get infected by demons. Their skills are complementary: Gabe is a crack shooter with guns, but Remi is expert with throwing knives. Gabe has an unerring sense for the rightness (or wrongness) of a place, while Remi’s gift is reading people. And while they’re sniffing out and doing away with demonic presences, the Morrigan tells them, “hell knows you’re here.”
The narrative voice, from Gabe’s first-person perspective, is richly evocative, and the handling of detail, setting and nuance is top-notch, flavored with my favorite cultural references. Therein lies both the book’s strength and its challenge. The heart of the book’s energy, its center, is the emotional and spiritual journey of these two characters. Neither just accepts at face value their angelic nature or their destiny. Much of the story revolves around challenging what they have been told, grappling with how their lives will never the same, figuring out what each means to the other, and along the way making near-fatal mistakes, either from inflated self-confidence or ignorance. They learn by slow steps, often circling around to the same questions before moving on. This is how we humans deal with events and information that changes our entire understanding of the cosmos and our role in it. We question, we negotiate, we accept, then we question some more. Sometimes we have to ask the same questions over and over in different ways until the answers make sense. All the while, these characters get to know one another, overcoming skepticism and distrust. Much of the pleasure of reading a character-rich novel is in falling in love with those characters.
Bottom line: I adored this awesome urban fantasy and can’t wait for the next volume.