James A. Hetley, Dragon's Eye (Ace, 2005)

The tiny Maine town of Stonefort hides many secrets. A haven for the unusual and the strange, it has long been home for two very special families. On the one hand, there's the Morgans, a clan of smugglers, rogues, thieves and con men, magically empowered by an ancient being they know only as the Dragon. In every generation, one Morgan is chosen to serve the Dragon, and with the death of his father, Gary Morgan now has to embrace his destiny and master his newfound powers, before the Dragon is stolen and corrupted.

Luckily, he has allies. The other unusual family is the Haskells, a matriarchal group of women who have always been witches and healers, their place of power a semi-alive edifice called the Haskell House, a place where women have gone to find shelter and safety for generations. The current Haskell witch, Alice, and her friend/sometimes lover and jack-of-all-trades/cop Kate Rowley will turn out to be valuable allies in the war that's brewing. For ruthless forces from out of town, including a drug lord with potent magical abilities, have come to Stonefort, and made an alliance with an unscrupulous family of smugglers. Don Antonio will stop at nothing to claim the powers of the Dragon and the Haskell House, and control the drug trade of the area. Gary, Kate, Alice, and their other family members and allies will have to use every trick and resource they collectively possess to foil this fiendish plot, while still coming to terms with generations of secrets, surprises, and mistrust. If they can't work together, they'll definitely fall separately.

For such a simple plot (out-of-town villain seeks to steal local magic, local heroes and anti-heroes band together to stop said villain), there's a lot going on here. Hetley expertly weaves together the multiple threads of the story to follow a fairly substantial cast. Gary has to deal with his mysterious uncle, Ben. Kate has to deal with her rebellious teenage daughter. Kate and Alice struggle to define their relationship. Caroline Haskell has to cope with her own relation to the various main characters. And there's a sentient house, and an ancient magical creature of unknown origins to keep in mind. Hetley's certainly created an intriguing setting with tons of potential for future stories here, and I hope he'll continue to explore it. Lord knows there's plenty of room for mystery and adventure up there in the wilds of Maine.

This may very well be Hetley's best book to date, just in terms of complexity, originality, and fast-paced excitement. As I've said, the plot may be simple but he really fleshes out the trappings that give it life and color, making for a fun read. In his previous books, Hetley drew from Celtic myth primarily. Here, he seems to be blazing his own trail, and doing a damn fine job. I highly recommend Dragon's Eye. It was one of those books I just couldn't put down once I started reading.

The author can be found online here.

[Michael Jones]