Katherine Kerr: License to Ensorcell

Nola O’Grady is a psychic who works for the United States government, part of an agency so secret it doesn’t even have an official name. Ari Nathan is an Israeli Interpol representative sent to America to find a serial killer. Her head is in the clouds, his feet are firmly on the ground. She relies on long distance remote sensing and subconscious information as represented by saints and angels, he relies on guns and common sense. She’s a people person, he’s a no-nonsense straight-shooter. Assigned to work together, this reluctant team must track down a a madman who’s systematically murdering werewolves . . . one of whom was Nola’s brother.

There you have it, the plot of Katherine Kerr’s leap into the urban fantasy genre after a lengthy tenure in science fiction and epic fantasy. As you can guess, it relies on a pretty standard “opposites attract” dynamic to get the hero and heroine together, in and out of trouble, and inevitably, into each other’s arms. Luckily, Kerr handles the character interaction deftly; Nola and Ari possess plenty of chemistry and work well together under some very trying circumstances. Throw in Nola’s wild and wacky extended family, and you really do have the makings of a good paranormal romance, one which succeeds in getting from point A to point B with sparks and explosions.

Now, I’m a sucker for secret government agencies which handle the paranormal; it’s usually a reasonable assumption that if weird stuff exists, someone’s going to deal with it. The Agency in this book, which conducts meetings on the psychic plane and stores data in something called the TranceWeb, is as entertainingly weird as any such group has a right to be, and Nola’s boss, known only as Y, makes for some fun moments. I did find the overuse of acronyms for just about everything to be more than a little distracting, with Nola firing off her “LDRS” and “SAWM” at lightning speed, and using things like “Search Mode: General” and “Search Mode: Chaos” like they were ripped from a role-playing manual. The end result was a personal power system that felt artificial instead of organic, jarring in the face of an otherwise fluid flow of dialogue and narrative.

The major problem I had with this book, however, came with the sheer number of seemingly disparate elements awkwardly sewn together to create the plot. She’s a psychic agent working for the government, who sees things couched in religious symbolism, teamed with an Israeli secret agent to hunt down a serial killer of werewolves, while also investigating a subplot involving alternate dimensions and missing family. With one major plot wrapped up 50 pages or more before the end, it feels somewhat overloaded and imbalanced.

And yet this is a good book. I greatly enjoyed the character interaction, the quirky family, the general lunacy of the situation, the escalating tension, and the underlying concepts. Kerr does an excellent job of conveying the peculiar uniqueness of San Francisco, and imbues the story with a general sense of fun. For all that this book might have its problems, my reading experience wasn’t too horribly impacted. it’s still a thoroughly entertaining read and a nice start to a series. I’ll be back for more.

(DAW, 2011)

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