Most of the books I have reviewed lately have dealt with supernatural elements that exist beneath the notice of ordinary human lives. Secrecy is of the utmost importance to those who combat the more sinister side of the supernatural, as the world would crumble if faced with forces it could never understand or control. Chris Philbrook’s Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death, from the very first page, counteracts this secrecy. Philbrook creates a world where the fantastic and the mundane coexist, where dragons are asked for autographs and wizards are on the payroll of governmental agencies. This sort of freedom leaves interesting spaces for the narrative of the story to explore, and in this regard Philbrook does not disappoint.
Similar to many of the books I have reviewed, Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death is a sequel in a previously-established fantasy universe. There is enough information given that even though I began the novel with only a vague sense of who the characters are and what is happening in their universe, I soon picked up the thread of the story and continued reading without a hitch. It helps that this second novel of The Reemergence follows Ambryn and a cast of characters that seem to be distinctly separate from the previous novel. In fact, aside from recurring characters and a few allusions to events in the first novel, Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death could almost stand alone.
One of the most important points that carry over from the first novel is that magic, which was once dying in the world, has been reborn with the birth of a new purple dragon. This is both a source of hope for characters who had believed they were the last of a lineage or practicing a dying art, and also a major source of conflict, as more ominous characters use the reemergence of magical power as an opportunity to expand their evil enterprises.
Though written as urban fantasy, Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death has a distinctly detective feel to it, as readers follow the efforts of Ambryn and the agents and affiliates of The Paranormal Agency to link horrific accidents to Las Vegas vampires, the eponymous Cheaters of Death. There are cover ups, conspiracies, and double agents, and Sin City as the setting of the novel lends it a certain aspect of noir fiction. The novel has everything a fantasy lover craves, with the kind of gritty realism that even the most hardboiled detective novel lovers would appreciate. Philbrook weaves a tale that manages to incorporate magic and the supernatural into the modern world quite efficiently, in a way that neither denies the overall existence of the paranormal nor disregards the affect human recognition has on supernatural creatures and abilities, making it accessible to many different readers.
Philbrook’s writing, too, makes Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death a universally appealing novel. His dialogue flows naturally, a hard task when characters are discussing vampires and other paranormal activity. The characters feel authentic and the action scenes are genuinely thrilling, as unpredictable as real life. Even though there was clearly a side I felt I was supposed to align with, the morals of all of the characters and the themes of the novel are never clearly black and white, another success on Philbrook’s part. The novel makes dragons and vampires and other things that go bump in the night feel honest because it never reads like a fairy tale. Good isn’t guaranteed to win in the world Philbrook has crafted, and both good and evil may not be at all what they seem.
Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death was a delight to read, a wonderful universe to explore with Chris Philbrook’s writing as an excellent guide. I highly recommend anyone interested in urban fantasy, detective fiction, or good books in general to read Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death as soon as possible. The only problem I expect you’ll find is that you’ll have to wait a little while for a sequel.