on June 29, 2010
The Naming of the Beasts is the fifth book in the Felix Castor series, so there will be some mild spoilers from the previous four books. At the start of the first book we learnt that Castor did something terrible to his friend Rafi Ditko. Something so horrible that he's never been able to move past it, and as a result Rafi ended up in a mental institution because he has a demon bonded to his soul. The story of the why and how is covered in the other books, but at the start of this fifth book you know this major story arc must come to an end, because Rafi has escaped his incarceration and the demon, Asmodeus, is in the driving seat. In the hands of another less accomplished author, this could turn out to be a predictable story with a happy ending, but Carey never disappoints and you never see it coming. I also took nothing for granted when I started this book, because characters can and do die, and I had been told it was probably the last in the series. With all of that in mind, and after the nail biting cliff-hanger at the end of book 4, I eagerly got stuck into this book.
Fix isn't safe, his friends aren't safe and he has no real way to fight the demon. If by some miracle he did somehow manage to pacify Asmodeus, he has no idea of what to do with him or how to unravel him from his best friend. So finding himself in a very tough place, he makes a deal with someone who is as bad as a demon in her own way, despite being completely human, Professor Jenna-Jane Mulbridge. She is a scientist, but one that will do anything to anyone to further her cause. She experiments on the undead and all the flavours in between in a clinical and detached way, as if they don't have feelings or rights even though most of them used to be people. The laws have not quite caught up on the rights of the undead, because it is such a new phenomenon, and she lives in that grey area, pretending it is all in a good cause. Because of her friendly demeanour and unthreatening manner, she is sometimes more terrifying than any demon. When other people lie, cheat or break their promises, she tuts and gives them a disapproving frown as if she is the epitome of good and forthright human behaviour and everyone else is just disappointing. She sees people as tools and manipulates them in a number of ways to get what she wants. Ruthless doesn't even begin to come close to describing her.
Castor's world starts to fall apart and the tapestry of the whole world is in fact changing. The undead landscape is shifting, rules that were previously taken as law are in flux and Castor is left with very little to hold onto to help save his old friend. What follows is quite often a terrifying story, where at all times I was anxious for the main character because of the demon on the loose with a personal grudge. Every time he walked around a corner or walked out of a door, I expected Castor to get a pool cue or a bottle in the face. Doggedly as ever, scrambling around for something he can use, Castor does his utmost and is willing to do almost whatever is necessary to save his friend. Almost. Even after making a deal with devils, there are some things he won't do and all of Castor's loyalties are put to the test in what seems like a final chapter. Without spoiling anything, the road is a very rough one and Carey adds a lot of detail to the mythology he's set up without laying it on thick and stalling the pacing of the story.
Characterisation as ever is a particular strong point of Carey's as his protagonist is pushed to his limit, both emotionally and physically. One of the most interesting things about the character of Castor, for me, is that most of the time he seems incapable of making new friends. Partly this is because he is prickly, difficult, stubborn and a loud mouth, to name but a few of his good qualities. But in this book, we see him forming new alliances in some unexpected quarters, in both a personal and professional capacity. There is definitely an evolution to the character and by the end of the story it sets up a very different future if it were to continue.
Overall this was an extremely satisfying and gripping read where no one is spared one form of agony or another. Carey is a very talented writer, not only for creating such a fascinating page turner and such great characters that the audience get deeply invested in, but because of the thought that has gone into the mythology. It could be that he has a giant tome somewhere at home that details the history and evolution of how the world reacted initially and then tried to cope with the new undead, but I sort of doubt it. I suspect he knows all of this, and it's in the back of his head, so that when he puts it down on the page it flows naturally and logically to the point where you realise that if such a thing were to happen, it would probably be as he describes it. With other urban fantasy, or supernatural noir, whatever label you want to go with, at times I can't forgot that I'm staring at a blue elf or troll walking around in the real world. With Carey's novels there is a more organic feel to the supernatural, and a natural progression on behalf of everyone's reaction from scientists, to religious groups, governments and politicians. It's completely thought out, but he also doesn't put all of it on the page to show us that he has done his homework like some authors who bog you down in research. There is detail where needed but never an indulgent amount and the prose is tight and pacy.
It's not a spoiler to say that the fifth volume doesn't explain the larger mystery established in the first and the very reason Castor has a job. No one knows why the dead are rising and why it suddenly started happening and I believe the sixth book when it is written is going to dig more into this mystery. I've really enjoyed the series and still maintain that the Felix Castor novels, along with Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels, are the best supernatural noir / urban fantasy on the market.