I loved Fobbit by David Abrams. I loved Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime March by Ben Fountain. And I usually don’t like urban fantasy, or fantasy in general. But The Bonding Spell, M. L. Doyle’s first book in The Desert Goddess series threw me off guard with how much the blending of ‘Iraqi war veteran meets other worldly demigods, goddesses and witches’ is as real as it is intriguing.
Hester Trueblood just returned from a deployment in Iraq. Over there, she picked up a coin in the desert that bonded her with the incredible powers of the Sumerian goddess Inanna, opening up a whole new realm. Inanna is an ancient bitch with issues, (but who can fault her) and her and Hester both struggle with their new relationship but eventually come to terms with the ‘bonding’.
Once back in Minneapolis, Hester opens up a restaurant that Doyle fills with lovable characters and few not so much; an infatuated demigod, a warlock bookstore owner, a Russian mobster, a cute college boy and a couple of Minneapolis cops, just to name a few. Oh, and then there’s mom.
Hester is gifted with two otherworldly cats, who are typical sleek kitties by day but fierce fighting warriors by night. She needs them, along with her coffee in the morning, which exemplifies Doyle’s juxtapositioning of reality and fantasy.
The story centers around a mystery, a horrible crime full of evil forces that is taking place which pulls Hester back to her childhood and her own dark past. (Perhaps this is why Inanna chose her to pick up the coin in the first place.) Hester and Inanna have a tenuous relationship, but it begins to work. Hester then takes on solving the crime, dealing with her childhood and many surprises along the way. It all falls into place in the end perfectly.
Doyle, an Army veteran, has dedicated herself to writing about women in combat boots, from true memoirs (I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen--My Journey Home, co-written with former POW Shoshanna Johnson) as well as the fictional Lauren Harper military mystery series, The Peacekeeper’s Photograph, The Sapper’s Plot and The General’s Ambition. Her protagonists are strong African-American women, and with so few books out there with these under recognized heroines, this new Desert Goddess series will be a welcomed and fascinating read.
The sly humor and street wisdom of Hester is refreshing. On one hand, I was hoping for a little more sex here and there, but after finishing the book, it doesn’t fit in at this time. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s steamy hot, but not in your face, and I think that’s what makes it a delicious read. Like a captivating lover, it will leave you satisfied, but wanting more.
Vine Hill Road Press, 384 pages, ISBN 10: 0989454975