Grace Under Fire, by Frog and Esther Jones
Kyra's star ratings:
Story: * * * * *
Characters: * * * * *
Writing: * * * * *
Emotional engagement: * * * * *
Under Fire is a wild ride through a world filled with tricky magic and
lurking threats with two amazing characters. Grace is a Summoner with
only middling powers but mad rune skillz who is sent to deal with a
difficult problem that the other Summoners in her local group (Grove)
would really rather not have to deal with. While trying to figure out
what wiped out the entire Grove of Summoners in Spokane, she runs across
a teenage boy, Robert, a foster kid who has just discovered his own
Summoning powers, to disastrous effect. Summoning is one of the worst
crimes there is in this alternate version of our world, and Grace and
Robert have to keep out of trouble with local law enforcement while
battling a giant, evil, massively powerful, orange raccoon-porcupine
demon from another dimension (dubbed "Rick"). It sounds absurd, and it
is, but that thing is also one of the scariest monsters I've ever come
The book almost bogs down a little at the beginning, when
Grace is explaining how Summoning and runes work, but her voice and the
problem she's trying to solve are engaging enough that I kept going,
and then she found herself stuck with a much bigger problem. And then it
gets to the first chapter in Robert's point of view, and that's where
the book really takes off, and never lets go until the end.
story is told in alternating first-person point of view, which can be
hard to pull off, but Grace's and Robert's voices are so distinct and
the characters are so engaging that it works beautifully. Robert's voice
and outlook especially made the book for me. He's a band geek (as a
former band geek myself, I always appreciate finding one as the
protagonist in a book, which doesn't happen nearly often enough), a
smart kid, world-wise in some ways from being shuffled through the
foster-care system for all of his teenage years but still very much a
little boy in other ways. Grace is a fun character too, with her
interesting combination of skills and obsession with good food.
magic system is complex, and the one minor flaw in the book is that
sometimes the explanations of how it works are a little complicated, but
they're integrated pretty well into the action and once I got the hang
of the idea behind it, it was pretty easy to follow how it worked.
action is wild and suspenseful, and even when the fight against Rick
the Demon Raccoon lets up for a bit, you still know it's out there and
you're wondering how in the world Robert and Grace are going to deal
with it. The ending fight is long, but the action is nonstop and
constantly escalating, and I couldn't put the story down.
The writing is clear, smooth, and vivid, with a wry sense of humor and a lot of understated emotion.
The book seems to be aimed at an adult audience, but I think older teen boys would also enjoy it very much.
highly recommend Grace Under Fire, and am looking forward to the next
book in the series and more adventures with Grace and Robert.