Tanya Huff, Long Hot Summoning (DAW, 2003)
The world is once again in peril in Long Hot Summoning, the third installment in Tanya Huff's The Keeper's Chronicles. But this time, the danger doesn't come from a portal to Hell. Oh no, this time it's worse. Much worse. This time, a shopping mall sitting on the boundary of our world and the next could spell the end of everything we know, just in time for some truly hellish back-to-school sales.
Diana Hansen, Keeper-in-training, is looking forward to graduating high school so she can become a Keeper for real, just like her big sister Claire (star of Summon the Keeper and The Second Summoning), now the proprietor of a very special boarding house. Mainly so she can show Claire how to do it right, with that typical teenager attitude. What Diana and her angel-turned-cat (don't ask), Sam, don't expect, is that her first call as a Keeper will hit exactly one minute after she steps out of school for the last time. And now Diana and Sam are in for the challenge of their lives, as they race against the clock to repair the damaged boundaries of the world before things get very bad indeed.
Meanwhile, over at the Elysian Fields Boarding House, things are business as usual for Claire, her cat Austin, and resident handyman and boytoy (I mean boy-friend), Dean, as they continue to attract a very special segment of the population. You know, vampires, werewolves, retired gods, midget basketball teams, on-the-run arachaeologists and their returned-to-life mummy lovers and the deranged hunter trying to slay said mummy.... Hey, at least the portal to Hell in the basement was closed! Despite things looking just dandy on the surface, it becomes clear to Austin's catlike perception that Dr. Rebik and the undead Meryat are hiding more than anyone thought, and poor Dean, left in charge of the place for a little while, may be at risk of losing his soul, if not his life.
But hey, it could be worse. After all, Diana, Sam, and Claire are busy in another dimension, trying to aid a version of King Arthur and mallelves in freeing the mall from the dreaded evil-without-a-good-name.
I'm sorry. Let me rephrase that.
Our heroes team up with King Arthur as filtered through an anime archetype, and a bunch of mallrats turned elves, in order to defeat an aspect of Hell, free a multidimensional shopping mall, and prevent a worse evil from unbalancing our world, while back at the Elysian Fields Boarding House, the relatively naive handyman and a grumpy talking cat fight a resurrected mummy.
I'm serious. It's an urban fantasy comedy.
Look, if you're going to laugh, we can just move to another review.
What's that? Laughing with me, not at me? Oh, fine.
Long Hot Summoning is actually clever, quick, and tongue-in-cheek, filled with interesting twists and shareworthy turns of phrase. It's just outrageous enough to be entertaining, and it manages to take itself just seriously enough that it doesn't degenerate into mindless pratfalls. This is a world where words have power, and our heroes have to be careful what they say, simply because it can be taken literally. Cursing is a no-no, and as for ground-shakingly good sex ... er, anyway. There are Rules to be followed for both good and evil, and breaking one allows the other side to do the same. Once again, things have to be done subtly at times. The dangers are real, even if they're not all-encompassingly nasty. So maybe Hell talks to itself and argues with its aspects. So maybe those aspects have dreams of being promoted to having names. So teenagers trapped in a mall can become elves, and the archetypical leader figure of Arthur isn't what we expect. What's important is that as far as urban fantasy with humor goes, this is right up there with some of Esther Friesner's books for sheer amusement value.
Characterization continues to be a plus. Not only is Diana fleshed out a lot more as she takes the spotlight, but Sam and Austin both get enough screen time to really shine, and Huff captures the personalities of the cats perfectly. New ally Kris is a welcome addition, especially as her worldly view and no-nonsense attitude make her a nice contrast to the portrayal of the Keepers.
My only complaint with this book is that the ending is abrupt. I mean majorly so. Certain things are resolved with a breakneck pace that left me with whiplash. I wish Huff had taken ten or twenty more pages to flesh out the very ending on a more graceful note. I can only hope there's another book in the series, because there's plotlines I'd love to see continued, especially with regards to Diana's emotional maturation and growing relationship with the other characters.
All in all, Huff turns in another entertaining, whimsical tale of the Keepers, one that'll make a great summer read.
[Michael M. Jones]
The SF Site has a Tanya Huff reading list.