Play Dead is the fourth novel in the Dog Days series about a musician named Mason who also happens to be a magic practitioner. He has a companion named Lou, an ifrit, a spirit/magical being that happens to look like a dog. Every practitioner has an ifrit because their magic tends to attract them, and these companions help protect the practitioner. In the case of Lou, he’s also a good friend. Mason supplements his income as a musician by working for Victor, a practitioner who enforces the practitioner community and helps to keep their activities out of the public eye. Victor asks him to work as a double agent for a black practitioner, Jessie. Jessie hires Mason to have him look for a young woman who stole something very important and dangerous. Jessie wants to get that object back and bring the thief to justice. Victor wants Mason to report his activities back to him so he can keep an eye on what’s going on with one of the most powerful black practitioners in the city whose gearing up for a strong political move in the practitioner community. Mason gets caught between a rock and a hard place with his life in jeopardy and the fate of the world at stake.
Play Dead has some interesting ideas, but the execution was a bit dry and slow at times. It didn’t seem to have that spark that made me excited to keep reading. Additionally, I felt that I didn’t really get to know Mason in a deep way; he seems to serve more as the narrator who furthers the mystery story than anything else. The magic, if you will, of urban fantasy of this sort is to have a good mystery, but more importantly, an intriguing protagonist that keeps you reading. I wasn’t given enough knowledge of Mason as a person to fall in love with him as a lead, which was my hope when I started this book.
On the good side, I found Lou to be highly adorable and funny. He’s very doglike because he’s as much a dog as an ifrit. I loved his way of reacting to Mason and his doggy way of solving problems and aiding Mason in doing his job and staying alive. I loved his tendency to beg for food and how others in the novel reacted to him with affection. He’s a loyal companion and protector of Mason, which strongly endeared him to me.
I also liked the magical elements. They are unique enough to stand out from different urban fantasy novels. I liked the infusion of science elements with the magic and the tidbits about magical theory. Mr. Levitt had an interesting approach with the magic aspects in this novel. Mason’s abilities tie into his creative nature as a musical artist. He draws the energy and the essence for his spells from the environment around him. Mason’s mentor, Eli, is a learned man who knows just about everything about magic and approaches it from an analytical perspective. There’s an interesting contrast between Mason’s applied approach and Eli’s theoretical vantage point with magic. Also, the item stolen by the young woman was created by a long-dead practitioner and scientist who made noted real-life magical scholar Aleister Crowley seem like a fake. This item is a book with spells that open portals to other worlds and allow the practitioners to create simulated worlds of their own. The problem is that these worlds have the potential to destroy the fabric of the real world, and the power to strip every nearby practitioner of all their magic. These parts did keep my interest.
Another big plus for this story was the lively setting of San Francisco and its view through the eyes of Mason. Mason clearly knows and loves this city, and his enthusiasm for it is infectious. The same is true for Mason’s background in music. This is how Mason did come to life for me as a reader. Many scenes in this story feature the music motif, including Mason playing guitar and jamming with other musicians. And better yet, music and magic get combined in intriguing ways in this book.
Although Play Dead didn’t blow me away as an urban fantasy novel, I enjoyed reading it. I liked the magic, the setting, the musical elements, and most of all, Lou. For those reasons, I would recommend it to other fans of the male-lead urban fantasy novel genre.
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Ace; Original edition (January 25, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0441019641
- ISBN-13: 978-0441019649