by Alex Khlopenko
Uncanny Collateral is the kind of fantasy that is possible only in modern-day America. A magic Norse-tattoo-covered immigrant Alek Fitz, whose parents mixed with trolls, collects debts and solves problems for whatever magical and mythological creature you can come up with – from routine vampires and goblins to Lords of Hell (inc.) and Death herself while living in the American Rust Belt. If it could contain more Americana it would’ve been written by Stephen King.
Not a page or sentence is wasted – the surgical precision of McLellan’s prose grips you by the throat with its Norse-tattooed hands and doesn’t let go until you finish
Closer to Gaiman’s American Gods and DC’s Constantine and Fables than Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London – with its main focus not on the procedural part – the investigation, but on the place where it all could happen and what sort of people would allow it. And it does a good job of it – after all, Brian McLellan knows a thing or two about collecting debt in Cleveland, OH. This shows in the amount of detail and the depth of commentary that Alek’s story provides – from things for which people sell souls and try to defraud the devil out of their deals, to parallels between the debt slavery of short-term loans and Maggie’s literal enslavement in Alek’s ring.
McLellan depicts everything in a classy tongue-in-cheek style, yet not without sincerity or self-consciousness. A high-paced action-adventure like this one, with an extremely macho protagonist whose testosterone almost overflows from the page is neatly balanced by complex and complicated female characters (I’ve personally worked with a dozen lawyers who do the same stuff as the one lady here but with less magic involved) who surround Alek and have their own arcs that do not necessarily depend on the protagonist. It may not be a groundbreaking move for gender politics, but it is nice progress in the gender dynamics in the genre.
Uncanny Collateral achieves all the above in just about a hundred fifty pages. Not a page or sentence is wasted – the surgical precision of McLellan’s prose grips you by the throat with its Norse-tattooed hands and doesn’t let go until you finish and go on Twitter to @ Brian about the sequel.
Yet, considering a somewhat cliffhanger-ish ending and a lot of promises made throughout the book, if this one turns out to be the sole book in the series that I read – that would be okay. It works as a finished narrative, that left me with a lasting aftertaste of an interesting adventure I’ve just been on.
Uncanny Collateral is hardly a gamechanger for urban fantasy. It uses the established tropes, subverts some of them, abuses some of them, and can’t boast being a 100% cliché-free, but should that be the aim of each and every novel? I doubt that. It is fun. It is fast. It is an adventure that doesn’t shy away from the reality it and is not afraid to comment on it.