As a barista at a cafe/comic book store in a fictional California college town, Ree Reyes has a pretty typical life for a genre geek. Talk with the regulars about the latest Watchmen prequel, gather with her group of equally geeky girlfriends after work. Try and pay the rent and the bills in a recession. Continue to try her hand at her dream, screenwriting. Its not an overly exciting life, but its Ree’s to have.
All that changes one fateful night when Eastwood, a scruffy looking guy, definitely not a regular at her store, comes in with a burning need for a Grant Morrison comic. Her curiosity gets the best of her, and the impossible fight outside of Cafe Xombi introduces her to a hitherto unknown magical world. Ree quickly learns there is a special magic to geek culture objects and ideas, hidden from normal view. And she learns that she might have the potential to tap into this power herself.
Now, Ree is caught up investigating a series of suicides in the bucolic town that may not be a statistical anomaly, and discovering that she might have a real place in the hidden world that Eastwood has accidentally introduced her to. Such a life and a role, though, has its costs, if Ree truly wants to walk this path. And is Eastwood really all that he appears to be? Therein lies the tale…
Geekomancy is the debut novel from Michael R Underwood.
Geekomancy does remind me strongly of Jim C Hines’ Libriomancer (see my Functional Nerds review); employing a genre fan prone to using genre and geek references in explicit and meta ways, in a world where that knowledge is valuable. Where Libriomancer gives us a protagonist very much clued into the hidden magical world and an entry point for us in that fashion, in Geekomancy, Ree gives us a viewpoint trying to work out the rules and layout of this world along with the reader. It does provide the reader with a natural progression into the nuances of the magical world rather than relying on the protagonist to recall information she long since has internalized. We learn the rules of this world as she does.
The descriptions, locations and inhabitants of this magical world reminded me in some ways of Neverwhere, and the author takes pains to answer why this magical world is invisible to the average population. It’s an answer that is familiar to me,as it in itself is somewhat of a geek reference, twisted sideways and given its own twists by the author.
Characterization of the three major characters (one of whom, in To Catch a Thief style, does not appear until midway through the novel) is relatively well done. Ree’s point of view is funny, witty and insightful as she tries to make sense of the magical world she has been thrust into.
On the other hand the novel is rather uncompromising, though, in its use and knowledge of geek culture, in a way that may turn off some readers. References range from the common to the obscure, and range from throwaway references to plot twists. The text is replete with this sort of sensibility. For example, Ree introduces all of her friends and acquaintances in a Dungeons and Dragon’s 3.5 stat block format in terms of giving them stats and prestige levels. [Paul Weimer Strength 10 Dexterity 6 Stamina 10 Will 13 IQ 15 Charisma 11 Office Drone 4/Geek 4/Photographer 4/Roleplayer 3/Genre Sneezer 3]. It works, for those who can decode that sort of language, a shorthand to describe characters upon introduction.
In addition, there are a few plotting and character issues with some of the secondary characters. There is a lack of resolution for a couple of minor characters who are far more important at the beginning than by the end of the novel, and it felt they had been unduly dropped out of the narrative. Another set of antagonists appear at first to be much more important than they ultimately turn out to be, much to my disappointment. The novel works best when it focuses on its main characters and loses some focus when it moves out of that zone. I attribute this mainly to first novel lack of polish that hopefully subsequent books will help buff away.
Geekomancy was very entertaining to me, but, again its a very insular novel. Its less accessible to general readers than its aforementioned counterpart. If you are a well read and well immersed genre fan, many points of this novel, many of the references and tuckerizations will amuse you and carry you along in the narrative. Less immersed readers may be frustrated, turned off, or simply not engage with the narrative, characters and the worldbuilding.
The writing, setting and character show promise. Despite my reservations above, I’d like to read more about Reyes and the worlds she inhabits.