Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.
Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.
The greatest strength of Owl and the Japanese Circus is that Charish takes the expected tropes of the paranormal urban fantasy genre and gives them a little twist, creating a tale that is both familiar and fresh. Vampires are present here (and I like the touches of them using pheromones to thrall or that Egyptian Mau cats can be trained to attack them, and their bites/scratches are venomous to them) but if this were a video game, they would be the minions that you beat up on a million times, yet never the main boss. Instead, our big bad is a Dragon. We also have (in no particular order): naga, kami and skin walkers on team bad guy, and team neutral has incubi, luck demons, nymphs and more. It’s a cornucopia of supernaturals and ones we generally don’t see, which is always a nice touch.
Alix (the titular Owl) is a kind of anti-Anita Blake. For all that she voluntarily or involuntarily gets involved with the supernatural, she can’t spot them for shit, so much much so that it becomes a pretty amusing running joke. Like Anita (and many other protagonists of this genre) she has a smart mouth. Unlike Anita, it without fail pisses off whomever she’s talking to – friend or foe. Never once does it gain her points from the other side, it only pisses people off. She nearly loses the two friends of hers that we meet in the book, and deservedly so. She’s the kind of friend that would be loyal to the end, but would have others asking you why you were still friends with her. She’s also notorious for rushing in head first to situations, and inevitably something goes completely awry. When you discover the background of one of the antagonists it’s actually quite tragic. Alix may try to paint herself a victim (something her friends don’t let her get away with, which is nice) but much of her drama is her own damn fault, she’s no murderer, but she’s also hardly innocent. It’s nice having a protagonist that everyone agrees is pretty damn well broken, but still manages to ultimately be likable.
Overall, this is just one of those books that works and hits all of the right notes. There’s plenty of action, there’s some good girlfriend heart-to-hearts, there’s even a nice bit of budding romance and hey, she even manages to find time to play a game called World Quest that honestly sounds quite fun and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story. The title sounds like it belongs to some kind of literary fiction, but it isn’t. It’s a very fun, very enjoyable piece of urban fantasy and anyone who has any interest in this genre should definitely check it out.
Verdict: Buy It