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The Curse Mandate by J.P. Sloan

Shortly after One Book Two started, Nell and I read two books in the Dark Choir series by J.P. Sloan. That was spring of 2015. FINALLY, we have the much-anticipated book 3! I’m sure the author will be glad not to receive our monthly “Are you done yet?” emails. 🙂

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Curse MandateTitleThe Curse Mandate
AuthorJ.P. Sloan
Series: The Dark Choir, Book 03
Publish Date: Dec 18, 2016, Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: NetGalley

Publisher’s DescriptionWar is coming… how much hell will Dorian Lake unleash when the gloves come off?

Saddled with both a new pupil and a bar to run, Dorian has to pick his battles carefully if he is to find his soul. When the Dark Choir bargains with Dorian in exchange for his loyalty, the power they offer may be too valuable to refuse…for a new menace threatens the hermetic order in America.

Members of the Presidium are being outed in the press, and the formidable cabal’s response is swift and brutal. But Dorian has no time to hide from the Presidium’s fury, as the new Deputy Mayor taps him to investigate a string of occult crimes. Dorian soon uncovers an ancient enemy of the Presidium, which threatens to plunge America into a lawless era not seen since the Dark Ages.

To sway Dorian to their cause, the Presidium gives him free rein to practice Netherwork. But even if the man without a soul can survive this conflict, if he can protect his friends and allies, if he can mean the difference between order and chaos… will this mandate save Dorian Lake from the schemes of the Dark Choir?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

I read the first two books in the Dark Choir series in Spring of 2015. That was a while ago, so I reread them before reading The Curse Mandate.  I had forgotten just how good this series is!

I will say that the overall story isn’t completely unique in the urban fantasy genre—cranky wizard/unreliable narrator gets forced into caring about more and more people, so his life gets complicated and enriched at the same time. There is a supposedly-white-hat, magic-policing organization both hunting him and recruiting him while he’s trying to train a dangerous apprentice. I could name three or four successful urban fantasy series that follow this same general pattern. So if you’re bored with that, you might want to steer clear.

However, if it’s done well, a million stories could be told along similar lines and all of them would be interesting because each has a unique flavor that comes from the characters, the magic system, and the world-building. Sloan does all three of these things very well, which makes this series successful, at least for me.

The characters are well-written and I care about their welfare. The magic system is interesting and I love learning more about how it works. And the world provides enough mystery and intrigue to make the plot compelling.

badge5v5In this installment, someone is aiming to take down the supposedly-white-hat, magic-policing organization and all the wizards affiliated with it. Dorian Lake has to hunt down the culprit and save the organization while not getting caught in its sticky web. On top of that, he has an apprentice to train, a junkie to clean up, a business to run, friends who need him, clients with problems, and a city official who almost presses him into service. Oh, yes … and he still has to find and reclaim his soul before it’s eaten by evil demons. Wizards have very complicated lives.

If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, I recommend giving this series a try. I’m looking forward to Dorian’s next adventure.

Nervous_Nellie_100Nervous Nellie says…

This is a horror but not in a slasher, blood spurting kind of horrific kind of way.  It’s more of a possible reality and that’s what scares me.

I wasn’t all that keen on the protagonist in book 1, but Dorian has grown some since then.  He’s still kind of rotten to his friends, but to be fair, he’s kind of hard to like sometimes. The poor guy lost his soul and even though he doesn’t have it, he’s still got a conscience.  He’s looking to find his soul and he encounters a lot of problems along the way.  There are agendas within agendas and the characters that are introduced are not hard to keep track of.  Everything flows and this is, again, not your average horror novel.  It’s more mystery/paranormal suspense.

badge4v5I think you could read this book as a stand alone if you don’t mind getting a little lost with things that are referred to in the past.  I think you could figure it out, but I think it would be a good idea to start with the first of the series if you want the whole Dorian Lake experience.

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

There are lots of successful books that use this same general story foundation, but each one is different and enjoyable. For example, the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, the Yancy Lazarus series by James A. Hunter, the Asylum Tales by Jocelynn Drake, and even the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.



The Curse Servant by J. P. Sloan

Curse ServantTitleThe Curse Servant
Author: J. P. Sloan
Series: The Dark Choir Book 2
Publish Date: February 26, 2015
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Perspective: First Person

Publisher’s Description: A regular life isn’t in the cards for Dorian Lake, but with his charm-crafting business invigorated, and the prospect of a serious relationship within his grasp, life is closer to normal than Dorian could ever expect. In the heat of the Baltimore mayoral campaign, Dorian has managed to balance his arrangements with Deputy Mayor Julian Bright with his search to find his lost soul. Dorian soon learns of a Netherworker, the head of a dangerous West Coast cabal, who might be able to find and return his soul. The price? Just one curse.

Sounds easy… but nothing ever is for Dorian. A dark presence arrives in the city, hell-bent on finding Dorian’s soul first. Innocents are caught in the crossfire, and Dorian finds it harder to keep his commitments to Bright. When the fight gets personal, and the entity hits too close to home, Dorian must rely on those he trusts the least to save the ones he loves. As he tests the limits of his hermetic skills to defeat this new enemy, will Dorian lose his one chance to avoid damnation?

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel (in other words, SPOILERS!).

Nell 100I finished the curse servant, Ivana! I really like Book Two.  Have you finished?

ivana 100Yep, I have. It was pretty good.  Do you like it better than the first?

Yes, I do like it much better than the first book; and, I have figured out why, too.  In the first book, Dorian is out of control.  I don’t like out of control – it makes me nervous.  I don’t like Carmen – the butt head – because she is a whiny toad who EXPECTS Dorian to get her out of the jam that she created.  Entitlement and lack of control – two things with which I have trouble. 

Out of control? Hmm… Yeah, I see that. I like that part, though. That first part where neither Dorian nor the reader don’t know what happened to him two years ago is terribly exciting for me! Book Two is more straightforward, and while still good, doesn’t give me the same sense of excited anticipation.

Nell 100Do you like the characters in Book Two?

ivana 100I love that we get to see more of Wren and Edgar. Ches is a much more sympathetic character than Carmen for sure. I’m eager to see what Dorian, Julian, and Ben will do with the bar.

Yeah, I’m rather happy that Julian and Dorian are going into business together.  I didn’t like Julian at first, but he grew on me. I really like Wren and Edgar’s kids, particularly that Dorian gets to babysit them and he doesn’t freak out.  What do you think of the whole Netherworking business?

I want to see more of the regular charms and hexes Dorian makes, but I think he should stay away from Netherwork.  He won’t, though, I’m sure, or there wouldn’t be much of a story.

Nervous Nellie says…  from our beloved Wren: “I didn’t want to go, but he reminded me that you were in charge of the kids, and I figured ‘Hell, they’re either bleeding to death or summoning a demon.’

Main characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Dorian Lake was a putz in the first book, but this time around he’s really getting things together. His life was totally out of control in the first book, which made me feel out of control. I realize that that’s the whole world building concept but it still made me uncomfortable. Ok, enough hashing of the first book. Dorian is really a good guy even though he was taught in a craft by a not so good guy. It seems like everyone is watching this poor guy. He makes mistakes, but he tries really hard.

Other characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Wren, Edgar and the kids are awesome. You can’t help but like Ches. Ches is a barista that Dorian just met and likes. It’s kind of confusing at first because there was no explanation, just a mention of “Ches” and I had to text Ivana and ask her “Who the hell is Ches?!” She indulged my “need to know” so I could move on with the story. Gillette was a tough as leather practitioner that has obviously been burned by others so much that she prefers to not get involved. Carmody is a conniving, self serving, double crossing jerk face of a practitioner. He so fits the profile of a bad guy that it was hard to keep from jumping to the conclusion that he had a part in the crap storm in which Dorian got stuck. Julian Bright was back again. I tried to not like the guy, but I just couldn’t. He’s got a charm about him that will endure through future books, I’m sure.

World: ♥ ♥ ♥ The world is a little sticky yet. It’s not as developed as I would like. It feels like I’m missing part of the scene when something magical occurs and then later I read it was a huge mistake. The Dark Choir could use a little more explaining, and so could the Presidium. I can’t decide if they are good guys or just idiotic politicians that turn the other way if something bad happens in order to cultivate benefits.

Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ .5 I really liked the story. It had a really good plot that a couple of good twists.

***SPOILER****Just a heads up, I had it figured out when I read about the blue Chrysler. I like that Julian is going into the bar business with Dorian. It fits with how I see Dorian, though I don’t have much confidence that Dorian can handle the business. Hence, Julian. I like that Julian is out of politics – it’s just not how I see him in my head. It feels like Julian should be more Dorian’s Handler.****END OF SPOILER****

Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I know I will put author J.P. Sloan on my top series list of this year. I am looking forward to the next book. The author does a very good job of describing the scenes and the Druid Hill club really brought the images of old money and dirty politicians. It was fun!

Invested Ivana says…

Main characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Dorian Lake really is a good guy at heart.  From the way he is putting everything on the line to help his friends and tenants to the way he deals with yet another not-so-nice girlfriend, one would never guess he is without his soul.  This has me a little worried, actually.  If the first three books of this series are supposed to be Dorian’s descent into darkness, as the author describes on his website, then the depth of the descent in the third book has to be astronomical.  In this second installment, Dorian does open one of his mentor’s books to find a curse he’s agreed to cast, but in the end he doesn’t even have to use it!  Please don’t read that as a negative, though, because I love Dorian.  I’m just worried what the author is going to put him through in the third book.

Other characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I really like that we get to see more of Wren and Edgar in this story, though sadly they are quite tortured.  I like Ches, but I’m sorry Dorian can’t catch a break with girlfriends.  I’m again surprised that Bright is such a good guy and hope we get to know more about him in future novels.  We get to meet Brown and Wexler from the Presidium, but we still don’t really get much inside knowledge.  From the hard-as-nails Gillette, we learn how suffocating the Presidium can be for practitioners, but maybe how civilizing their effect as well.  Carmody is another dick practitioner serving the same role as Osterhaus does in the first novel.  He, too, seems to get taken out a bit easy.  And McHenry still being a pain in the ass, though he gets his in the end.

World: ♥ ♥ ♥ As readers, we get to witness more magic happening in this book.  However, the rules of magic aren’t really explained to us; so, when Both Dorian and Ches make what seem like stupid mistakes, we have to be told they are mistakes after the fact rather than experience the dread that comes from really understanding the mistake.  We do get a glimpse of what life is like with and without the Presidium, but still very little information on what the Presidium is about.   I felt the lack of these two things more in this novel than the previous one – maybe because they are a bigger part of the novel or maybe because I had an expectation of learning more this time around.

Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Dorian’s quest for his soul get sidetracked in this book as he tries to do right by his tenants and his best friends’ child.  He again puts the heat on McHenry, the corrupt real estate developer, which I love.  This story wasn’t written quite as tight as the first one, but I still enjoyed it very much.  The development of the relationship between Dorian, Edgar, Wren, and their kids was really the highlight of the book for me. I liked the new venture introduced at the end of the book, too, and hope that develops into something great.

Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Despite some things that could have been tighter in this installment of the series, I still really enjoyed it.  Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s an attachment to Dorian, or maybe it’s just that the world is intriguing, but for some reason, I want to read more.  I think Dorian, Edgar and family, Julian Bright, and even Ches are worth investing in and I want to see more of them.

Oh, and I just have to say, I LOVE the covers of this book and its predecessor.  Check out the artists at Conzpiracy Digital Arts.

Our reviews in this series…

If you like this book…

Of course, read the first book, The Curse Merchant.  You might also try Strange Magic by James A. Hunter.  Both Hunter’s book and Sloan’s novels are reminiscent of the Dresden Files novels, so that would be a good choice if you haven’t read them.  You might also try the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey.

A copy of this book was received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Curse Merchant by J.P. Sloan

Curse MerchantTitleThe Curse Merchant
Author: J. P. Sloan
Series: The Dark Choir Book 1
Publish Date: September 15, 2014
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Perspective: First Person

Publisher’s Description: Dorian Lake spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed. He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy. His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own. As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel (in other words, SPOILERS!).

Nell 100‘Vana-The Curse Merchant is making me very nervous.  I’m on Chapter 14 and the good guy isn’t winning……..

ivana 100Dorian Lake is the protagonist, Nell.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the good guy.  There are anti-heroes, too, you know.

Nell 100He may not be the “good” guy, but he’s still supposed to be “good” at heart – that’s why I read these books.  You might be an assassin like Gin in Jennifer Estep’s The Spider, but you’d better have a good reason for doing what you are doing.  Dorian has missed phone calls and ignored his tenants.  He appears to have buried himself after whatever happened two years ago – I think that Edgar was right to ask him if he was on drugs. 

ivana 100Well, you know that saying about “the road to Hell,” right?  I’m not finished with the book yet, so I may be proven wrong, but I get the feeling there is some cool and sneaky things going on here.  There’s an awful lot of talk about Karma; a soul contract has a two-year “cooling-off” period; Dorian did something to upset a lot of people two years ago, and as a reader, we’re not sure yet what that was or even if Dorian remembers what that was.  I have to say, the anticipation of what is going to be revealed has me so excited and intrigued I could hardly put the book down last night to go to sleep!

Nell 100You don’t need to reveal anything to me.  As long as things turn out ok, I won’t have a problem.  It’s just very uncomfortable for me not knowing.  I am this close to reading the ending of the book.  I know that is unreasonable because there is a sequel, so I know he’ll at least survive this book.

ivana 100Well, you are in luck there.  I did check, and Dorian is the protagonist in the second book, so he does survive.  Does that make you feel better?

Nell 100Yes, it does!  But on the other hand, maybe he’s been turned to the dark side and is now a really bad guy.  Or what if he doesn’t get back with Carmen (not that I know if he’s even going to try, but still…) Or what if Edgar and Wren decide he’s not worth the friendship effort?  What if he’s embroiled in a political conspiracy with Deputy Mayor Bright?  Maybe he sells his soul to get enough money to fix up his rental houses?  What if??????

ivana 100Well, you’re not going to know for sure until you finish the book, so get a move on!

Nell 100Fine!  Geez, you can be sooooo bossy!

Nervous Nellie says…

“The gun inched closer to my nose.  I had to watch what I said, or Gina was going to redecorate this cheap motel room in Smartass Red.”

Main characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Dorian Lake is a good character.  It takes him several chapters to grow a spine, but that’s usually how first book characters start out.  They have to begin somewhere so they have somewhere to develop.  His character portrays a “poor little rich boy” well in the first chapters.  He had a lot of growing up to do before he could move on to the character at the end of the book.  He cried tears a lot more often than any other male protagonist I have ever read.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s just unusually emotionally vulnerable.

Other characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ I’d like to beat Carmen within an inch of her life.  Dorian’s BS meter was definitely not working when he hooked up with her.  Wren and Edgar are a delight.  I picture Edgar as being ‘Cheech’ of Cheech and Chong.  They are the kind of friends that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime.  If Dorian didn’t have them as friends, he would have been toast.  The other savior of the story was Reed.  I never caught on to ‘The Syrian’.  He never once popped up on my good guy/bad guy radar.

World: ♥ ♥ ♥ I liked the world.  Several urban fantasy novels portray “black” magic and that is basically what is going on when you practice Netherwork. I’m not sure why you would want to practice Netherwork because it’s not if it’s going to bite you, it’s when it’s going to bite you.

Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I liked the story.  I felt very nervous for Dorian through the first 14-15 chapters.  He just wasn’t getting it. I am looking forward to the second book, The Curse Servant.  I am wondering how Dorian is going to get out of his bind as well as looking forward to more development to the characters that the author introduced.

Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ I liked everything.  I will read the next book.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

Main Character: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I like Dorian Lake.  His heart is in the right place, but he just can’t keep his mouth from getting him into trouble.  I can relate. I was never quite sure of his financial situation — he owns an Audi, goes to an exclusive club, owns rental property, and comes off as a little spoiled, but yet still worries about money.  He makes some choices I didn’t quite get, too, like going back to the club after just being reminded he promised to stay away.  He also seems kind of quick to jump into his mentor’s cabinet after spending an awful lot of time avoiding that very thing.  I love how he loves his friends and how he can be loyal to a fault; but when he’s pushed too far, he can be nasty.  I love that he sees himself as an agent of Karma.

Other Characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Sloan certainly surprised me with some of the other characters.  I never suspected Carmen and the Syrian would turn out to be what they were — not sure if that was good writing or a lack of clues.  I’d have to reread the book to be sure.  Wren and Edgar are awesome and so good for Dorian.  So is Ben.  I expected the Deputy Mayor to be sleazy, but he turned out to be decent.  You don’t usually see that kind of optimism for politicians, even in fiction.  Osterhaus was a dick, which was his role in the story, and I have a feeling McHenry is an antagonist that will show up again.

World:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I like what we see of Lake’s world so far, but a lot was left unexplained.  Set in modern-day Baltimore, there is a world of magic that isn’t exactly hidden, but not widely believed.  So far, we’ve seen magic-wielding humans but no creatures other than those shadowy figures that stalk the soulless and the Netherworkers.  We know that souls are energy, and a commodity.  We know that karma is real (here Ivana cheers).  We know there is a policing agency called the Presidium, but we don’t know what they do, exactly.  In some stories, not having that information really bothers me.  I wasn’t so bothered with this book, though — maybe because the story was so compelling, or because I just trusted the author would reveal more in time. I would like to see more of the basic type of karmic charm Dorian is famous for, though.  Maybe those would make some good short stories?  I enjoyed the references to the Inner Harbor and the Aquarium as I really liked my time in Baltimore as a tourist.

Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ During the first half of this book, the reader is trying to figure out what happened to Dorian two years ago.  Why are all his friends mad at him?  Why is his memory hazy?  This is the part of the book that had me so excited I could hardly put it down!  I was hoping for some Sixth Sense type of twisty deviousness.  When that part of the mystery is finally revealed, then you get to watch Dorian take back his life and try to set things right.  I’m all about karmic justice, as you may know if you read this blog much, and the bloodier the better.  I LOVE seeing characters get back what they deserve, so the ending of this book made me really happy.  Dorian kills several birds with one stone at the climax, setting as many things right as he can in the end. Another thing I really like is when seemingly throw-away elements of the story are really important foreshadowing.  The dragonfly pin, the ticket stub, and the messages on Dorian’s phone, for example, all end up being important details in the bigger story.  This is the kind of tight writing that I enjoy.

Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  The Curse Merchant is the type of book that makes me thankful that self-publishing and small-press publishing has really taken off; a big publisher may or may not have taken a chance on this story.  The only thing keeping this from being a five-heart book for me is that we need more about the world and the magic system.  But I trust that will come in the rest of the series.  Sloan has crafted a great tale that had me wrapped around its pinkie until the very end.  This series is definitely going on my favorites list.

Our reviews in this series…

If you like this book… One Book Two will be reviewing the sequel, The Curse Servant, this coming Tuesday, so watch for it.  I might also recommend The Asylum Tales by Jocelynn Drake and The Hollows series by Kim Harrison. No promotional consideration was granted for this review.