My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As a regular reader of tor.com, I’ve seen quite a few book reviews posted by author Jo Walton. Walton has a penchant for picking out books that have been out for some time–and which, consequently, are currently rather hard to find. Such is the case with John M. Ford’s The Last Hot Time.
I previously knew of Ford only as the author of the comedic Star Trek novel How Much For Just the Planet?, and so was quite intrigued by the prospect of reading something entirely different by him. Originally published in 2000, The Last Hot Time is an urban fantasy from just before “urban fantasy” really came into vogue as a subgenre in its own right. Familiar hallmarks are certainly here, though: an ostensibly real-world setting impacted by the rise of magic, fey creatures of various stripes, crimes that have to be solved, humans living in a city occupying a borderland between the real world and the magical, a gritty overall atmosphere, and more.
In this particular case, the setting in question is Chicago–a Chicago profoundly changed by magic and by the re-emergence of Elves into human society. Our protagonist is Danny, who saves the life of the victim of a drive-by shooting, and winds up in the favor of the mysterious Mr. Patrise, who holds power in the part of this changed Chicago that sits between the human world and the magical. Danny, now called “Doc Hollownight” by Mr. Patrise and his other employees, soon learns of the Elf sorceror Whisper Who Dares, who’s on the loose in the city–and that he’s going to have to help stop him.
There’s a lot that’s familiar here if you’re a longstanding reader of the genre, to be sure. What pulled me in, though, was the juxtaposition of elves and gangster-style characters, which gives this almost more of a feel of a story set in the 30’s rather than a more contemporary time frame. What kept me was Ford’s excellent prose, and his way of naming elf characters. The aforementioned Whisper Who Dares is an example, and that’s even just the short form of that character’s name; the full form is Whisper Who Dares the Word of Words in Darkness. I also very much liked the character Cloudhunter Who Keeps His Sisters’ Counsel, a.k.a. Cloudhunter, a.k.a. Cloud. Ford’s version of elves in general read for me exactly how I like elves to read in any fantasy, urban or otherwise: i.e., elegant, otherworldly, and with a noble lyricism about them that can be either bright or profoundly dark.
It’s a great loss to the genre in general that Ford’s passed away, but fortunately, he’s left behind some excellent books. This one is well worth hunting down if you can find it; I checked it out from our local library, and am hoping to track down a copy of my own. Five stars.