Drake by Peter McLean
Hitman Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt, Don unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself.
Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Don and his magical accomplice The Burned Man, an imprisoned archdemon, are forced to deal with Lucifer himself whilst battling a powerful evil magician.
Now Don must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul whilst preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.
Magic is a tricky beast, what with all the subtle intricacies and specifics that have to be just so. It’s hardly a surprise then that the powers the magic can offer are open to a certain amount of abuse. For every good miraculous thing that can come from magic, there is an evil, violent opposite. The key lesson? Practitioners of the arcane arts needs to be wary, what goes around comes around. Don Drake, the magically imbued hitman, is going to learn that the hard way. He is about to have what can at best be described as “an exceptionally bad week”.
Hmmm, how best to describe our titular hero? Let’s see, try to imagine a sleazier London-based version of Harry Dresden with a borderline drinking problem and issues with gambling, and you’ll be thinking along the right lines. I do so love a flawed character, always much more interesting to follow, and Drake falls squarely into that category. He isn’t deliberately evil, he just has an uncanny knack for making the polar opposite of a sensible decision. Situations have a habit of blowing up in his face, and things tend to end up being extremely violent and more than a little bit bloody. I found myself flip-flopping between considering Drake a complete scumbag or a well-intentioned but epically thoughtless idiot. Like most of us, Drake isn’t entirely good or entirely bad, he lives on a sliding scale, doing his fair share of both.
The grotty backstreets of London act as the perfect backdrop to Drake’s somewhat dingy existence. Greasy spoons, dark alleyways and dodgy pubs are the order of the day. Makes perfect sense; your average demon is always going to be drawn to the seedy underbelly of a city. One such being is Wormwood, an arch demon of Hell and a constant thorn in Drake’s side. McLean sets Wormwood up as a gang boss/club owner who delights in tormenting our erstwhile hero. I love the idea that nightclubs and pubs exist that cater for to the supernatural element in a city.
When Trixie arrives in Drake’s life things get infinitely more complicated. He is suddenly thrust into the midst of an age old battle between forces he’s not sure he can even comprehend. The good news however is that Trixie is no slouch, quite the reverse. She is a hard as nails, ass-kicking action heroine who might just be the only one who cares if Drake survives or not.
The final character of note is the Burned Man. He is a filthy little foul-mouthed thing who offers Drake magical assistance, albeit in a begrudging fashion. There are some splendid chapters that offer a little insight into how the two actually met one another. Their relationship is an interesting one. In some respects they are both in thrall to one another. The constantly shifting dynamic between the two is great fun.
I suppose I should offer a small word of warning. Those amongst you who prefer the more genteel, PG friendly urban fantasy that exists elsewhere probably want to give this a miss. McLean’s vision of London is a city of violence, substance abuse and foul language. Personally, I loved it all. I’m all for demons embracing their demonic side and if that means them ripping off someone’s arm and then smacking them with the wet end, then so be it.
In many respects this novel acts as the perfect introduction to Drake and his messed up world. The books ends with a handful of tantalizing questions still left unanswered. Will Don ever get the opportunity to properly redeem himself? What exactly is the Burned Man scheming in the long term? Just how long can a demonologist with a snarky attitude survive without major injury? I look forward to finding out the answer to these questions and more in the future.
Drake, the first book in The Burned Man series, is published by Angry Robot Books and is available now.