BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: Mad Lizard Mambo


Title: Mad Lizard Mambo (The Kai Gracen Book Two)

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Author: Rhys Ford

Pages: 240pp

Price: $5.99 (ebook) / $14.99 (paperback)

The fae and human realms have collided. Decades after a devastating war led to a tenuous detente, the two races now sort of live side-by-side in a sort-of peace. The elfin, however, are slowly dying out. When Ryder, the elfin lord of the San Diego area, learns of a long-lost temple which may hold the key to restoring his people's fertility, he approaches Kai Gracen to lead an expedition across the desert, through nightmare- and monster-infested land. Kai is understandably reluctant to do so. But when someone tries to kill him and one of his oldest friends, he takes it personally ... and begins to suspect that there is more to this quest than Ryder is telling him ....

I read, loved, and reviewed Black Dog Blues, the first volume in the Kai Gracen series, back in 2015. I kept hoping and hoping that Ford would write another book, and -- yay! -- she did this passed summer. I devoured it in only a couple of days and now I rather wish that I had taken my time. Who knows how long it will be until the third volume is released.

Mad Lizard Mambo starts out with a bang -- okay, a wild dragon chase across a blasted landscape -- and doesn't let up. There are more mad chases, explosions aplenty, lots of guns, unrequited lust, betrayal, murder, an epic quest, narrow escapes, more explosions, dark magic and evil fae and demon dogs and ... I could go on. Definitely one of the most exciting books that I have read in a long time. It was like Mad Max meets Dungeons and Dragons.

And, oh, the polytheism of this book. This is a gorgeous, richly-realized world populated by Gods and spirits and monsters and magicians and people of every faith imaginable. Kai's close friend Dempsey prays "to the dead Catholic god and a few of the more noteworthy saints," Jonas honors various nature goddesses, Robbie regularly prays to Odin and Thor on their wild trek across the desert, and "everyone [knows] Pele, Ganesh, and the Morrígan." At one point, Ryder swears "by all the gods in the trees and the sky," and Kai notes that "When you show up in front of whichever god's got gate duty that day, you want your soul to be as clean as you can get it." As far as I can tell, there is little to no religious discrimination or persecution in this world. Everything changed with The Merge and survival became a day-to-day struggle; even all these years later, it's still tough, and there are more important things to fight about than which Gods one chooses to worship.

Mad Lizard Mambo is a fantastic book. It is populated by characters that you will love, characters that you will hate, beautifully detailed world-building, and did I mention the mad chases and explosions aplenty? I'll just leave you with this description of the post-Merge San Diego cityscape to whet your appetite:

I'd sat on the edges of the Imperial crest and watched sea faerie dragons turn the moonlit ocean into spangles of icy blue and gold light, seen a thunderbird scream through a valley filled with wildebeest and zebra for the sheer joy of feeling their terror [....] The valleys and corridors below Pendle were filled with generations of escaped wild animals from an old safari park, and there were definitely descendants from the Balboa zoo wandering around [....] The Murphy caverns were home to lion prides who fed off the giraffe and zebra herds coming to drink from Kearny Lake [...] Flame-feathered peacocks danced along the San Diego River's delta once a year, its crystalline sands melting into slag beneath their fiery plumage [....] Quartz roses bloomed along the remains of the 163 corridor, their leaves stripped clean by the wild giant pandas roaming freely through creaking bamboo forests [and] swarms of blue glass butterflies settled on the unattended dead, scooping out tiny divots of rotting flesh with their curled tongues ....

Highly recommended to fans of C.S. MacCath, Sarah L. Avery, Ilona Andrews, Jolene Dawe, and Juli D. Revezzo. 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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