Book review

Review: Uncanny Collateral (Valkyrie Collections #1) – Brian McClellan

151 pages| Self-Published| Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, SFF

I received an ARC of Uncanny Collateral from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The digest: a fast-paced easy-to-read urban fantasy with a heavy focus on magically-inspired bounty hunting. Recommended to urban fantasy fans or those seeking a break from long, dense, traditional fantasy novels.

From Uncanny Collateral‘s Goodreads page:

“Alek Fitz is a reaper, a collection agent who works for the supernatural elements of the world, tracking down debtors and solving problems for clients as diverse as the Lords of Hell, vampires, Haitian loa, and goblins. He’s even worked for the Tooth Fairy on occasion. Based out of Cleveland, Ohio, Alek is the best in the game. As a literal slave to his job, he doesn’t have a choice.

When Death comes looking for someone to track down a thief, Alek is flung into a mess of vengeful undead, supernatural bureaucracy, and a fledgling imp war. As the consequences of failure become dire, he has few leads, and the clock is ticking. Only with the help of his friend Maggie—an ancient djinn with a complex past—can he hope to recover the stolen property, save the world, and just maybe wring a favor out of the Great Constant himself.

It’s a hell of a job, but somebody’s got to do it . . .”

I’ve been meaning to read some of McClellan’s books for some time now – he’s the author of the very popular Powder Mage and Gods of Blood and Powder trilogies, as well as many other short stories. However, Uncanny Collateral is the first story of his that I have read – and it’s meant to be quite a departure from his previous entries. Let’s see what I thought of it.

What was less than good?

  • My main criticism here is one that I have with many shorter stories – Uncanny Collateral lacks meaningful depth. In no way does this mean that the characters are flat or the story uninteresting, but readers should know that this story is much more focused on entertaining its audience (and setting up for future development) than telling a conclusive story in and of itself. Kinda like an intro episode  – it’s an entertaining read but it is clear that there is a fair time to go before we get stuck into the meat of the story.
  • Some of the characters’ actions didn’t make much sense and seemed to exist purely to drive the narrative in a certain direction. Is it believable that Alek did X and then Y? Not always. Does this really matter in a world full of goblins and magical tattoos? That’s up to you.
  • I think that the book could have done with another light edit – there were one or two phrases which conspicuously appeared far more often than they should, and some of the dialogue felt a bit contrived. A minor issue, but one that contributed to my reading experience none the less.

What was good?

  • The story is written in a smooth, flowing style – one could easily power through it in one sitting if desired. Uncanny Collateral is a fast-paced action-packed story which will grab your focus and entertain you for its duration.
    • In terms of the pacing, I found there to be a good mix of fighting and explanation. While I feel like these explanations could have added more to the overall story in parts (see the negative point in the above section), the overall balance of what was actually here was good.
  • The worldbuilding is stellar for such a short publication; not only is Alek half-troll half-human with the ability to take on superhuman strength, but he is also endowed with magical tattoos which he uses to take out a variety of goblins and other supernatural beings. I loved this aspect of the story – while the narrative is a simple enough detective plot, I really enjoyed seeing McClellan weaving fantasy elements into the investigation.
    • What I particularly enjoyed about this aspect of Uncanny Collateral is just how interesting it is. I’ve read a few books which, on paper, contain everything I need to really enjoy the story, but fail to grab me as the execution is poor. Not so here, McClellan gives us just enough information with each new species or power (for lack of a better word) to further pull us into his world. It seems like he has a fair amount of progression planned for future stories, and I can’t wait to see what this includes!
  • Although the characters are not amazingly well developed, they are for the most part an interesting bunch. Throughout the novel we are given tidbits of information about who each person is and what their motivations are; for Alek we get a more full backstory about his… well lack of backstory. While there is definitely room for improvement in this department, I think most readers would accept the characters here for what they are without being too hung up about them. I enjoyed seeing how the relationships between the cast evolved over the course of the 150-odd pages (friends, enemies, and colleagues) and think that if McClellan chooses to expand on these in future instalments I’ll be more than pleased.
  • Most of all, Uncanny Collateral is an entertaining read. Its language is not poetic nor are its characters not the best developed, but the narrative is just good fun. There are high stakes at play, a magical half-human badass is the protagonist, and you are never quite sure who can be trusted. It’s good fun, and for me was a welcome break from heavier novels.

Conclusion: 4/5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Uncanny Collateral and I’m excited to see where future books in the series take us.

3 thoughts on “Review: Uncanny Collateral (Valkyrie Collections #1) – Brian McClellan

    1. Thank you for commenting! I haven’t read the author’s other works so I will be interested to find out if these issues were down to self-publishing this novel or if it’s a part of his writing style (which is doubtful tbh).

      Liked by 1 person

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