“I know about you, Deacon Chalk… you
are a man whose life is drenched in blood.”
– Blood and Silver by James R. Tuck
Dark, loud, and fast – that about sums it up.
On the surface of it, Tuck’s flawed but endearing hero is yet another monster killing tough guy in the paranormal fantasy pantheon – very much reminiscent of Cole Warnecki from Marcus Pelegrimas’ cult classic Skinners series, Eric Courtney from J.F. Lewis’ Void City saga, and Richard Kadrey’s James Stark of Sandman Slim fame. In fact, on the very first page, Chalk is described as a “big badass.” But while there is nothing necessarily ground-breaking or unique about this series, Tuck’s audaciously addictive writing style makes these novels wildly entertaining.
In Blood and Silver, for example, Tuck takes a relatively straightforward storyline – Chalk attempts to save a dog from abuse and gets in the middle of an epic political power struggle between feuding lycanthropic twin brothers – and creates an amazing spectacle of imagination that includes were-polar bears, ghost spiders, exotic dancers, a priest who moonlights as a bartender, thousands of rounds of spent ammunition, explosions, existential angst… and that’s just in the first few chapters! It’s like the paperback equivalent of attending a horror convention that features an open bar, funhouse, strip joint, and demolition derby – all going on at the same time!
One line from Blood and Silver is so fitting: “I wonder if the cotton candy stand is set up yet?”
Tuck’s Deacon Chalk novels remind me of the serialized pulp fiction of the 1930s and 1940s – larger than life characters, nonstop action, jaw-dropping plot twists, copious amounts of sexuality… there is a real sense of narrative freedom here. I’ve read reviews that essentially call this series sexist – the Publishers Weekly review of Blood and Bullets concluded: “Male readers looking for escape into a world where life is hard but simple and heroes don’t need plans will find this perfect beach or airport reading, but the gender politics are unlikely to find favor with female readers.” – but I couldn’t disagree more. Many of the female characters in Blood and Silver were smarter, stronger, more courageous, and more emotionally stable than their male counterparts. In fact, the real hero of this novel was unarguably Tiff, Chalk’s love interest.
Bottom line: Urban fantasy fans who enjoy their literary escapism where anything can – and probably will – happen should check out this fast-paced and downright fun series. I mean – c’mon! – any writer who can include a sentence like “The bear threw the refrigerator at me.” in a novel is okay in my book…
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.