Urban fantasy often falls into what I think of as ‘gym reads.’ They tend to be light-weight philosophically, action-focused with streamlined writing. Good gym reads are well written enough that they don’t remind me I’m pedaling or stepping away in repetitive motion, and great ones may even get me working harder with adrenaline, or keep me on the machine longer than I planned. Schaefer’s Daniel Faust series is definitely one of the latter, so I was looking forward to giving his spin-off series starring Agent Black. This is the second book in the series, improving somewhat on the first.
Holly Black is back for her second mission with the Vigilant Lock, a secret arm of the government created to deal with occult threats. Actually, first they have an unofficial mission: hunting down the tech genius who orchestrated the death of former team member Mikki. Things go a little off the rails and the team ends up in hot water with their boss after someone gets cell phone footage of a team member running over a suspect. Further recriminations are put on hold for their real mission: recovering the Red Knight satellite that seems to attract a hostile unknown entity.
Action is steady, if not always logical. The team heads to Oregon, posing as civilians while they narrow in on the landing site. Things go haywire when other unknown agencies, mercenaries, and Dark Forces become involved. They end up flying to Florida, to Chicago and California as part of the mission to prevent the apocalypse, dealing with double agents, a boss that occasionally seems to work against them and trouble in their own unit. The ending was satisfactory and paves the way for the next mission.
Characters feel like any standard team operation show. We have the prodigy, awkward computer geek, the wheelchair-bound psychologist who provides the logical thought (I think?), the Almost-Dark-Side berserker and Harmony. There are side involvements regarding personal dating-type relationships with some of the team members (of course, not the logician) to give them a little more depth, but for me it felt rather single note. I enjoyed Jessie’s personality, however, and would happily give a spin-off with her a shot.
Every now and then, a world-building problem intrudes, much as in the first book. My first misstep was at 12% when one of the team members asks Harmony, who is a witch, “Do you miss it?… The days when you didn’t know what you know. The bliss of ignorance. You can’t see the world like they can, not anymore.” Seeing as how Harmony’s father was killed and her mother taught Harmony witchcraft, and she worked for years with the Bureau, including chasing down the miscreant Faust, I’m puzzled where this sentiment came from. More importantly, at one point Harmony and teammate Jessie decide to investigate a supernatural ‘neutral zone.’ They encounter a rather powerful demon that controls the building and they proceed brazenly, threatening to take it into custody, shoot or torture it for information. All while above a room full of folk with magic powers, in a neutral territory. I hate it when lead characters are TSTL.
Still, it was an enjoyable distraction, but I’m definitely looking forward to return to the Faust series. Recommended for those times you want lots of UF action without overt sexism.