Dog Days, by John Levitt, Ace 2008.
Mason is an ex-enforcer, a magical impresario (with more style than talent) who'd much rather play jazz than protect the city of San Francisco from nefarious powers. But when a renegade practitioner begins siphoning mystical energy and resurrecting old, forbidden traditions of a bygone mystical age, Mason finds himself reluctantly investigating. His companion in this adventure, interestingly enough, is a canine--or, rather, an 'Ifrit' that only looks and behaves like his canine companion, Louie.
Much about Dog Days is credibly interesting. The mystery surrounding practitioners and their Ifrit companions, never fully explained, is a fresh take on the daimon/familiar tradition within fantasy stories, and Louie quickly became my favorite character. Mason begins the novel as an aimless and slightly annoying layabout, but as we learn more about his powers, he becomes a lot more interesting. The way that Levitt connects magic with improvisational jazz is quite brilliant, and I like that he chose to craft a deliberately vague and metaphorical power-system rather than hitting the reader with ironclad rules and regulations. I also liked Campbell, a sexy (and practical) witch, especially when she puts Mason in his place.
At times, I found myself veering away from the Bad Sorcerer plot as I grew more interested in Louie and the other Ifrits. In fact, I enjoyed many of the animal characters more than the humans. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think that Levitt's take on these magical creatures--loyal familiars rather than werewolves or demon-hounds--is interesting and actually more in line with a lot of traditional mythology. His links between 'talent' and Buddhism are also fascinating, and suggest a mature, seasoned writer with a lot of real-world experience and a flair for honest, elegant construction. Even the passionate scenes had a world-weariness to them that was actually a great relief to me. I could imagine actually knowing these folks, and that was a nice feeling.
If you're a fan of noirish thrillers with a hint of Sam Spade and not too much overwhelming magic, I highly recommend Dog Days.
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