With Silent Screams - Steve McHugh

With Silent Screams (Hellequin Chronicles #3)

by Steve McHugh

Recommended for: fans of action-heavy, violence-filled, and minimal-angst urban fantasy

 

Someone is trying to send Nate Garrett a message, and since it's Nate, they're sending it with blood.  When Nate receives a call from an old friend and arrives to find the friend rather messily murdered, he knows something is up.  When the mysterious killers follow up with a well-placed bomb, it begins to get a little personal.  Nate soon realises that the people after him have some connection with a case he closed over thirty years ago, a case that happened to involve both the magical powers behind Avalon and the pocket-dimension kingdom of Shadow Falls.  Since that case left everyone involved either dead or imprisoned, Nate is left with more questions than answers, but he's still ready to enter the fray with aplomb:

"You don't know what game they're playing."

"That's okay ... I plan on cheating anyways."

Although With Silent Screams is actually the third book in The Hellequin Chronicles, it was my first entry into the series.  I can therefore say with assurance that the book works perfectly as a standalone. The set-up is a little like a cross between Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid and Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Like Harry Dresden, Garrett is an extremely powerful magic-wielder with a preference for wind and fire.  Like Atticus O'Sullivan, the protagonist of Iron Druid, Garrett is an ancient being living in a modern world, but I find Garrett to be a far more believable millennia-old inhuman protagonist. Unlike Atticus, Garrett doesn't pepper the book with endless pop-culture jokes, and while his phrasing is modern, it is British rather than American.  Garrett also has far fewer scruples about killing his enemies than most of the urban fantasy protagonists I follow.  As he explains,

"Like humans, some [sorcerers] have trouble taking a life and some don't. I fall into the latter. I'm not psychotic or evil or anything so damn melodramatic, I just don't have the luxury of second-guessing myself. If someone is coming to attack me or the people I care about, it's them or me. Simple. If they want to push something to that degree and they threaten a life, then theirs is now forfeit. ... if taking a life means people I care about are safe, then I don't think twice about it."

Nate holds true to his claim.  He has a tendency to divide people into "good" (aka "on his side") and "bad" (aka "not on his side"), and exhibits very little guilt about gruesomely dispatching the "bad" folks.  Despite my general dislike of amoral protagonist, I thought it worked quite well, possibly because Garrett is, after all, a 1600-year-old Hellequin.  Early on, I realised that it was rather like reading a book with Kincaid from the Dresden Files as the protagonist.[1] I have a weird fondness for Kincaid, and that carried over to Garrett.  Part of the attraction was Garrett's sardonic and often black-tinged sense of humour:

"There is nothing you can do--"
I blasted him in the chest with a jet of air [...] walked over and grabbed his shirt, dragging him upright. I head-butted him, destroying his nose. He dropped to the ground as blood streamed down onto his shirt."

"Don't say that," I told him. "I'll take it as a personal challenge."

The magical world was only sketchily defined, but I found several aspects of it quite satisfying. As far as I could determine, most magic-wielders are either sorcerers or alchemists.  I found alchemy, which provides the ability to alter or transform various materials by touch, to be rather ill-defined and highly variable in power from moment to moment. [2] Nate, too, showed huge volatility in power level; in one moment, he's taking out a house of monsters; in the next, he's being dominated by a novice. However, there were plenty of aspects I enjoyed, such as the casual mentions of historical figures.  For example, representatives from the magical world are always sent to have a "first meeting" with new leaders.  Teddy Roosevelt apparently seriously considered shooting the magical representative, Nate desperately wanted to kill Henry VII (he liked Richard III and thought he didn't deserve all the bad press, and, as he says,

"Charles II was an interesting one--I'm pretty sure he was either drunk or stoned for the entire meeting."

The plot itself is enjoyable, if rather impressively gory. Initially, the chapters alternate between the present and flashbacks of the previous case, and I thought the device worked well.  I also could have done without a certain amount of vampire-fueled wish-fulfillment and a discussion about "man cards" and "acting like girls", but all of that was definitely in character for Garrett.  While there is some amount of mystery, Garrett has a frustrating tendency to fail to ask the obvious questions, so he usually finds the answers by stumbling into trouble. Garrett's version of thinking ahead:

"Do you have a plan?"

"Sort of [...] I plan on getting out and killing the whole fucking lot of them."

Most of the story is a series of non-stop battles. Most of the protagonists I follow are either low-power or exceedingly eccentric, so I found the more straightforward magic fights a refreshing change.  I found Garrett's battle style, especially his use of flame and air, to be very reminiscent of Harry Dresden, so if you're looking for something similar, this series is definitely worth a closer look.  Garrett also spends basically no time agonizing about the death he causes; as he says:

"Will you kill them all?"

"Yes," I said honestly. "Every single one of the bastards involved in this deserve to die."

"Maybe killing isn't the answer. Maybe you need to show force a different way? [...] I just don't want to think about you having so many souls on your conscience."

"My conscience is clear," I assured him. "I won't give these people a second thought."

If you're interested in action-packed urban fantasy and you're tired of angst and guilt, then The Hellequin Chronicles may be a good fit. 

As for me, I'm off to dig up the first in the series.

 

 

[1] Remember Kincaid? The guy who tells Dresden that he's an incompetent gunman and hands him a holy-water paintball gun as a consolation prize? That Kincaid.

Unfortunately, this left me with a mental image of Garrett as a husky blonde dude with a ponytail and a deep and gravelly voice for no rationale other than fond memories of Kincaid. Please, someone tell me that Garret i's at least blonde. Or gravel-voiced.

 

[2]

The informed abilities and huge variation in power was most apparent in Caitlin.  Considering she managed to out-fight Garrett in their initial interaction, why on earth did she "damsel" so much during the cave escapade?

(show spoiler)

[3] Couple of other quotes I liked but couldn't shoehorn into my review:

 

"It's not about power, it's about the willingness to do something that will stop your enemy cold. The willingness to win at any cost."

 

"You're like a nuclear missile, you're dropped somewhere and cause devastation all around. You've always been that way."

 

And, of course, an important life lesson for anyone who spends time around Garrett:

"Don't grab you when you're in the middle of killing someone, I'll keep that in mind."

(show spoiler)

 

~~I received this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, 47North, in exchange for my honest review.~~