There’s no one who does dark urban fantasy quite like Rob Thurman. For those who are used to the styles of Patricia Briggs or Jim Butcher, Thurman is a completely different kettle of fish. There’s no glamor, little romance, some camp, and a whole lot of snark. Her voice is unique and utterly unmistakable, as are the tales she tells. She has three ongoing series: companion series Cal Leandros and Trickster, and Chimera.
Doubletake is the seventh book in Thurman’s Cal Leandros series, which started with her debut novel Nightlife. The series follows protagonist and narrator Cal, a half-human half-Auphe, and his fully human brother Niko. They function as private investigators, bodyguards, and hitmen for the supernatural community in New York City, receiving occasional help from the puck Robin Goodfellow and a vampire named Promise.
A Story About Family
Family is everywhere in Doubletake. It’s been an ever present theme in the series, as Cal and Niko’s brotherly relationship is the one thing Cal values above all other things, but in this book that theme is expanded. The millennial gathering of pucks is in town, giving the reader a glimpse of what passes for familial relationships in a race that doesn’t have fathers, mothers, or siblings. It also gives the reader some meaningful backstory on Robin Goodfellow, who is otherwise extremely closemouthed about pucks or anything that would actually provide more insight to Goodfellow as a person. Niko meets him for the first time when he shows up on the doorstep and asks Niko and Cal for help tracking down and containing an escaped automaton of the Vayash Clan of Rom. Finally, Cal is confronted by another half-human half-Auphe, and they realize what each of them could have been had their lives gone just a bit differently.
Good things that just get better
For me, Thurman has continued to grow and mature as an author with every book. As the Cal Leandros series begins, it feels like Thurman had a few ideas for future books when she wrote Nightlife, then kept getting contracts for more Cal books long after her initial ideas had run out. This resulted in rather episodic books rather than books building one upon the other plot-wise. The book previous to Doubletake, Blackout, started building some hefty multi-book story arcs, and Doubletake continues this trend. Thurman’s writing has gotten better in other ways as well, with multiple story lines within the book intersecting well, and not in obvious ways. Thurman’s descriptions and battles just get tighter and better with every book she writes. Her characters are also increasingly complex. Thurman was good at writing a character who would tell you one thing and then do something completely different in a believable manner when she began her career, and now I don’t know of anyone else who can match her skill.
Never an easy read
Cal is not fully human, and even if he was, his experiences growing up have damaged him severely. His narration is very snarky, can meander at times, and he’s constantly struggling to keep his violent, sociopathic tendencies in check. He also deeply dislikes himself. In every book, he makes strides towards deciding who he is going to be and accepting who he is. By book seven, he’s in a very different place mentally and emotionally than he was in book one, but that doesn’t make his narration emotionally easy to read. Through Cal, Thurman will make you laugh at times, but his darker moments will also leave you somewhat disturbed. I should also mention there’s a lot of backstory and a lot of worldbuilding that’s been done in previous books. While Thurman does an excellent job of refreshing your memory when necessary, she doesn’t go over old ground. This is not the book of hers to pick up first.
Why you should read this book
First of all, if you’re a fan of urban or contemporary fantasy, I’d consider Thurman’s work must reads. They’re dark, gritty, edgy, and funny all the same time. Once again, there’s nothing exactly like it out there. Now may also be a good time to get into Thurman, as I’m guessing there’s going to be a break in her release cycle after Doubletake. She was in a car accident this fall that left her hospitalized, and her town (though not her house) got hit by the recent string of tornadoes that went through Indiana this past month. So while I shall be sadly and anxiously awaiting the next release, you have time to catch up! However, if you don’t like books that are narrated by deeply introspective and morally questionable characters, the Cal Leandros series may not be your cup of tea.