Devil’s Call by J Danielle Dorn

Posted On 7 August 2017

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Devil'sDevil’s Call is an excellent book that I can’t recommend enough.  My immediate thoughts were ‘wow’ and the TL:DR review is ‘Just read it.  Please.’  Put basically, this is a story that, for me, works on many levels.  I love the format the story is told in, the writing is persuasive and evocative, and the central character makes for compelling reading.

This is a story told by a character called Li Lian in the form of a diary to her unborn child.  I love this form of storytelling and it’s executed particularly well in Devil’s Call.  We pick up with Li Lian as she goes back to her earliest memories of being a child and she really does tell a remarkably interesting story.  The McPherson women come from a long line of gifted women.  Call it witchcraft or the dark arts if you will but all of them have abilities that come naturally.  They’re used to protecting themselves and disguising their abilities by keeping together in a close knit community where the women nurture the gifts that their children receive but at the same time learn to hide them from hostile eyes.  Li Lian is from a young age more curious than some of her cousins.  She wants to know more and shows less restraint often getting herself into trouble.  As she grows this develops into a more rebellious streak that sees her running away from home in search of adventure.  This is when she first meets her future husband and theirs is a relationship that grows into something so strong that it can withstand the tests of time, separation and cultural difference.  The two eventually settle down together but the time they have is to be short lived.  Three strangers come into their life one night and change it forever.  Li Lian’s husband is murdered and Li Lian herself becomes the chief suspect.  With help from an unexpected source Li Lian manages to escape imprisonment and execution and sets out in pursuit of the murderers with vengeance on her mind.

Set in the mid 1800s the story travels around from Nebraska to Louisiana and has a wonderful western vibe.  I just loved this aspect of the story.  It’s got a rough lawless feel, people carrying guns, saloons, dirty streets and towns that feel like they’ve shot up out of the dirt.  There’s something raw and basic about it and it really comes across strongly in Li Lian’s tale.  The story manages to walk that fine line of giving detail without an over abundance.  You get a really good sense of place as Li Lian travels between towns, often caked in dust from the road, feeling hunger and cold alike, sleeping rough or in the back of a cart.  It’s just a level of gritty realism that adds to the feel of the story.

The characters.  Well clearly the main character is Li Lian.  She tells the story and her narration is simply compelling.  She makes an unlikely ally in the form of Roger Hawking, a butcher and a drunk and Li Lian’s unlikely saviour.  He is with her the night her husband is shot but because of his predilection for alcohol his testimony provides no more credibility than Li Lian’s.  The two make an unlikely pairing but their story and dialogue make for excellent reading and Hawking’s history gradually unfolds as the two move across the country.  On top of this there is the main character that they’re in pursuit of.  I don’t want to give away too much here as it’s something that is best learnt as the story develops but there is something deeply unsettling and scary about this character.  Li Lian steals the show completely of course.  She’s tenacious and resourceful and such a wonderful female character to read about.  What I found really compelling was that she was believable.  She has these magical abilities but they’re not over the top fantasy elements.  There’s no electricity flying out of her fingers.  The magic here is much more subtle, chants and incantations, concoctions and charms, nothing dramatic and flashy but the sort of ability that eventually leads to people whispering behind shut doors, hanging protective wards around their thresholds.  The type of magic that could be little more than herb lore and a knowledge of healing but that eventually leads to superstition.  Although, you are aware as a reader that Li Lian’s magic is real and that things in this world exist that defy explanation.

I just loved this.  It has everything.  Great characters, great setting, compelling story and this wonderful gritty realism that develops into something more.  I will definitely read more by this author and I’m curious to know if more will be forthcoming from Li Lian.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks  The above is my own opinion.