THE BOOK OF SECRETS
The Last Oracle, Book #1
by Melissa McShane
Curiosity Quills Press
Helena Davies just wants a job that will get her out of her parents’ basement. Abernathy’s Bookstore is disorganized, out of the way, and smells funny, but it pays well and promises to at least be interesting. She has no idea how interesting her life will become. By the end of the first day, Helena has a dead boss in the basement, an unexpected promotion, and the news that she is now a part of an endless war against creatures from another reality.
As Abernathy’s newest custodian, Helena is responsible for its secrets, including the most important one: Abernathy’s isn’t just a bookstore. It’s the world’s only living oracle, producing prophecies to help fight the war against alien invaders bent on draining this world of its magic. Helena’s job is to find books to answer questions put to the oracle by the Wardens, fighters in the Long War. It seems simple enough, but Helena’s new job is anything but.
She has allies: her best friend Viv, from whom she has no secrets; Harry and Harriet Keller, elderly magi skilled at uncovering secrets; and the enigmatic Malcolm Campbell, warrior magus and one of the few who have faith in Helena’s abilities. But not everyone is thrilled that an outsider now has charge of one of the world’s most powerful magical entities. Helena must defend herself against the antagonism of Judy Rasmussen, who’d expected to be the next custodian of Abernathy’s, and her father William, powerful leader of the Wardens and someone with an agenda of his own.
Without training, without any knowledge of the magical world, and facing the hostility of those who’d wanted someone else to be Abernathy’s custodian, Helena must navigate the treacherous waters of her new world and find a place for herself within it. But there’s still a murderer on the loose, someone who intended to control Abernathy’s by killing its custodian—and Helena might be next on his list.
What a fun beginning to a magical series!
Helena just wants a job, and the add in the newspaper for a bookstore assistant is much more promising than a position at Pick 'n Pack. To her surprise, she's hired on the spot and immediately dives in by typing labels for catalogs. When her boss is murdered on the same day, she becomes the new head of the bookstore. . .a magical bookstore. The world flip-flops as she finds herself stuck in a war between magical factions and dimensions—she didn't even know magic existed. Not only does she have to figure out how to fulfill her duties with the instruction book missing, but faces heavy scrutiny from magis, who don't want her running the store. Add deadly monsters, a constant cloud of new secrets, and a murderer who might have a target on her back, and she's in over her head.
After reading this, I only have one thing to say—I can't wait to read book two! This is a story placed in the middle of a magical war, but unlike many magical wars in literature, it's not about action and magic throwing and an insane amount of dangerous monsters. The author takes on this book with a more natural pace, one that still never runs into the realm of boring.
Helena is a very average young woman, who is easy to connect with. She isn't sure what she wants in life, has a normal family, and a very sensible head on her shoulders. She isn't a kick-butt heroine—more of a bookworm—but that doesn't mean she'll just stand there and let powerful magis push her aside. She simply follow her nose and trust anyone who doesn't spike her gut. It does come across as a little naive at times, but it also makes her human. Curiosity and a little spunk give her bite, without going over-board and ruining her slightly socially awkward, gentle character.
The world is rich, allowing the book store to come alive with it's dust, leather and onion-smell. Much of the book takes place in the store, but the various characters and situations add tons of color and life. There are moments of action and several fight scenes, which are tense and exciting, and there are other moments, where caution haunts in the background, knowing that something is about to pounce. Still, the author does a great job of easing the reader into the world and Helena, taking the time to allow the quirks and wonders to unfold and develop. By doing this, one is entrenched in the world and gains a personal connection to several of the characters, with tons of promises of the excitement still to come.
And there are a couple hints at romance as well as pauses of normal world fun, which round the book off and keep it in touch with reality and familiarity.
In other words, it's an entertaining, light read with a touch of all those great things to make a magical world glisten and shine.