Novella Review: Uncanny Collateral by Brian McClellan
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Valkyrie Collections
Publisher: Self-Published (April 2, 2019)
Length: 147 pages
Brian McClellan does urban fantasy—I knew I had to see this for myself! I loved his first Powder Mage trilogy and I’m also currently enjoying his Gods of Blood and Powder series, so naturally I was curious to check out something by him outside of the epic fantasy genre. When I first heard about his Uncanny Collateral novella, I was instantly intrigued, but I was more so when I found out it stars a half-troll who works as an agent for a supernatural collection agency, and his partner and closest companion is a djinn who lives in a ring on his finger.
Enter Alek Fitz, a reaper for Valkyrie Collections tasked to track down debtors and shake them down for what they owe. It’s a crap job, but having been bought at as infant by his employers, Alek has no choice but to serve them. His only friend is a djinn named Maggie who is just as much a slave as he is, trapped in a ring that’s bound to him forever, but at least the two of them work well together and get along. In fact, with Maggie’s anniversary coming up, Alek wants to do something special for her, but unfortunately the two of them have just been roped into a doozy of a job for a client who is not someone they want to cross. It seems that someone has been stealing souls, a transgression that is causing Death himself a great amount of displeasure, not to mention the ripples of unease these brazen thefts have been sending throughout the supernatural community, driving the fractious imps to the brink of war.
Now Alek finds himself thrown into a situation way over his head, with little clue as to how to solve the problem. Worse, time is quickly running out, and while Alek and Maggie are under extreme pressure from their superiors for being no closer to apprehending the thief, soon it becomes clear that there’s more than just our protagonists’ jobs on the line.
For all that Uncanny Collateral feels like your standard urban fantasy fare that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it was still a fascinating read and I had a rollicking good time with it. There’s a lot of pleasure and comfort in its familiarity, to tell the truth, and avid fans of UF should have no problems sinking their teeth into this one, especially if you enjoy series like Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles or Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, as those were the two series I was constantly reminded of as I was reading this.
McClellen also adopts a very slick, cool and no-nonsense voice when he writes from the perspective of Alek Fitz. Combined with the sympathetic backstory for the character, we have a main protagonist who is immediately likeable and endearing. His relationship with Maggie was also a joy to read about, and I especially enjoyed the closeness and the affection they have for each other, which featured very strongly in their easy back-and-forth banter.
Story-wise, the plot wasn’t anything to write home about, though to its credit, I found Uncanny Collateral super punchy, fast-paced, and entertaining as hell. While I can’t say I was expecting all that much out of a 150-page novella anyway, I was still very impressed. Some authors struggle with the short fiction format, but not Brian McClellan, who uses it to his advantage. Whether it’s heart-stopping action, a fascinating tidbit related to the world-building or characters, or a significant development that advances the plot, he ensures that something either interesting or important happens on every page. And most important of all, he is careful to never let any one of the book’s aspects wear out their welcome, such that there were no lulls, dragging scenes, or moments of boredom.
A quick and fun read overall, Uncanny Collateral was an impressively well put together urban fantasy tale that I actually managed to wolf down in about a day. Best of all, despite its fast-paced and vivacious narrative, this novella still went down incredibly smoothly. Highly recommended for UF fans looking for a bite-sized treat, or for readers looking for a little diversion in general. I can’t wait to go on another adventure with Alek and Maggie, if McClellan ends up writing more of these books.