Welcome to the Bookburners reread! Every week your stalwart guide will be rereading an episode of the exciting urban fantasy serial by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery. Less a review, more of an “OMG THIS HAPPENED” tour through the books, demons, and magical adventures of Sal and Team Three, this reread of Season One is here to remind, rehash, and reminisce.
Episode 1: Book, Badge, and Candle
Kicking the season off is Lead Writer Max Gladstone. Have you guys read Max’s Craft Sequence? If not, I seriously question your life choices. Go read it now. I’ll wait. IT’S SO GOOD.
Ok, back? Awesome, wasn’t it? Knew you’d like it.
Anyway, Max starts us off in New York City with Sal Brooks, who we quickly gather is a beleaguered detective with the NYPD who has seen some shit. Like, amputated fingers just chilling in an ashtray type of shit. She’s made of tough stuff, clearly, but her shaky hands tell us she’s not numb to the horror just yet.
Enter “Hurricane Perry”: Sal’s brother who seems to be a loveable hot mess. After a rough day of blood and bullets, Sal isn’t too happy with the surprise visit but their relationship appears to be one of love, and grudging patience.
Through chatter over tea we learn that Perry a) is interested in old books, b) has acquired a particularly interesting specimen, c) is fighting with his roommates who share similar interests, but apparently not the same view on handling this latest text, and d) is potentially being hunted by some force called the Bookburners.
…and on cue, there is a knock. The Bookburners have arrived. Sal goes down, Perry opens the book—and judging by his transformation (blood tears, fanged mouth), hell breaks loose.
From behind closed eyes and her place on the floor, Sal gathers that Perry got away and the Bookburners are not happy about it. She gets a glimpse of an Irishman and a Chinese woman before blacking out.
Next, in a hospital ward where Sal is talking to her partner, there comes the classic-but-always-frustrating moment when person A just saw some crazy stuff go down and is trying to tell person B but person B is all “girl, you cray,” and completely disregards person A.
Sal is thus left to lone-ranger this mystery of her missing brother. Her first stop is his apartment—where, conveniently, she runs into the mysterious Bookburners in their surveillance van outside. There’s the Irish guy (Liam) and Chinese woman (Grace), and an older Hispanic priest whose voice she recognizes from the attack (Father Menchu).
Menchu manages to display a disarming amount of concern while explaining to Sal that they are a special team sent by the Catholic church and working with the local police to track down a book recently stolen from the Metropolitan Museum’s sealed collection. Turns out Perry got his hands on that book and is now, apparently, in very grave danger.
They need to interview Perry’s roommates for clues to track him down. Sal demands to go with them. Menchu is all, “No, way too dangerous. Stahp.” And Sal is all,
So they softly storm the apartment and Sal bypasses the roommates to find Perry sitting at his computer. Except….whatever it is might sort of look like Perry…but dear god, is definitely NOT Perry.
He reached for her.
There seemed to be a great deal of space between them all of a sudden, but his arm grew longer to bridge the gap. A finger of ice pressed against her skin above her heart, so cold it burned. As the hand approached it no longer looked like a hand at all, not like a hand of flesh. Torn corrugated tin twisted around paper and woven plastic bones, forming fingers. Black oil dripped from ragged joints. The arm was a length of rebar wound with trashbags and shredded cloth. Bottleglass eyes reflected the monitors’ blue glow. Thin lips parted to reveal metal teeth, wet with more oil.
The Definitely-Not-Perry horror attacks and suddenly Grace is there kicking serious ass. Like, woa…where the heck did she come from? Definitely not your average “just really good at jujitsu” team muscle here.
Sal runs away only to find the roommates have also gone off-tilt and are black-eyed and attacking the other Bookburners. Through the punches and swords slashes Sal manages to get out of them that Perry took the book to his storage unit.
A well-timed gas explosion saves the day, ends the fight, and leaves Sal out on the street looking at Liam, Grace, and Menchu like,
At which point they resign themselves to giving up the goat and come clean:
Menchu explains some Big Things –
- Magic is real and chomping at the bit to get into our world, which it does through artifacts, usually in the form of books.
- The Vatican maintains a library of magical texts called the Black Archives. The Bookburners collect for and tend to this archive.
- The book Perry nabbed is a particularly scary specimen, “The Book of the Hand” which contains a “a charismatic world-eater [demon] with a taste for human minds.”
- By opening the book, Perry has become possessed by The Hand.
- The Hand created that Definitely-Not-Perry monstrosity and infected his roommates, leaving them as roadblocks to stop the Bookburners.
- The only way to stop The Hand and save Perry is to close the book.
Sal, the delightful hot-headed firecracker we are quickly realizing her to be, takes all this in and basically says, “Ok, got it. Now get the fuck out of my way so I can go save my brother.” LIKE A BOSS.
…a foolhardy boss, perhaps, but a brave one, certainly.
Liam tracks her down and tries to explain why Lone-Rangering a demon possession is seriously a bad idea. Turns out he was possessed himself—lost two years to a complete demon-caused black out. Woke up bloody, scarred, and fully aware of just how scary and powerful magic can be.
Sal concedes that she just might indeed be out of her element and agrees to letting them help her save Perry. They all hop in a van and head to Newark where her brother’s storage unit is and everyone lived happily ever after.
Just kidding, of course not. It’s episode one! Which means…CLIMACTIC, TOTALLY INSANE FIGHT SCENE!
They roll up to the storage unit and are pretty immediately beset by a slew of mildly-possessed people attacking them on behalf of the Hand. The team goes into action (once again, woa…that Grace chick can fight) and Sal slips through to confront the Possessed Perry directly.
The Hand tries to sweet talk Sal out of her plan to stop him:
“What does anyone want?” Perry said. “A future. Futures taste grand. And you people have built so many of them for yourselves, like ice cream flavors. A hundred years back you expected more of the same forever, until maybe some god scooped his favorites off to play in a cut-rate Heaven. Bland. Tasteless. But now—starscapes and apocalypses, gray goo and futuristic despotism, oil crises and pandemic collapses, floods and robots and monsters, oh my! Fresh universes of fear. Your brother’s spinning them by the billions inside me. You could join him. Suffer through a few million hells for me and I’ll give you a paradise none can match.”
Which…perhaps wasn’t as persuasive as he’d hoped. Sal was having none of it and, with some help-via-distractino from Menchu, manages to close the book. Yay! The Hand leaves Perry. Double Yay! But then Perry is non-responsive. Fie!
Final scene: Sal and Father Menchu stand over Perry as he lies comatose.
Quick pause though, to give a resounding slow-clap to Gladstone for this beautiful scrap of text:
Emotions take up space, which is why all priests, from bearskin-kilted Wotanites down to modern Xenuphiles, make such a fuss over architecture. Rooms shape the feelings within. Parallax crushes impressions of size: high ceilings and pointed arches hold more heaven than the sky itself. Close chambers fit cozy emotions, or stifling ones. A dense nest will accommodate sweaty sex and a mushroom-assisted voyage to the outer spheres. But don’t whisper to your lover in a cathedral. Don’t look for Wotan in a closet.
Don’t hope to feel any way but forlorn by a hospital bed.
Anyway, standing over Perry, Sal faces a tough choice: Walk away, forget the craziness she just witnessed, chalk it up to a fever dream, and hope Perry wakes up some day. OR. Stand up, realize she can never go back to the way things were before when she didn’t know magic existed, and join the Bookburners fight to stop what happened to Perry from ever happening to someone else.
The decision doesn’t take long. She grabs that metaphorical lightsaber like a badass demon hunting version of Rey and the game is on.
See you next week for Episode 2: “Anywhere But Here”!