The Naming of the Beasts, the fifth book in Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series starts to gather together threads laid down in the previous tales and still manages to set the scene for something even more epic. If one were to lay any charges against Mike it would be that the books are somewhat formulaic. Essentially Castor is trying to free his friend from demonic possession that he feels responsible for, while around him the world is gradually going to shit in a hand-basket. He screws up a couple of times per book, underestimates both the demon and whatever evil force is also abroad and causing trouble, and then works through to some kind of conclusion at the end usually in a bitter-sweet moment of muted victory.
Like all generalisations, the previous description is both true but also inadequate because it is the detail and nuance that Mike brings to each tale that delivers the meat, the conflict; screw-up; screw-up; resolution is just the sauce.
The end of Thicker than Water left some serious threads hanging and The Naming of the Beasts picks up straight where it left off. Castor has to work quickly to track down Asmodeus before he completes his grand escape or seeks his complete revenge, it’s not clear which is on his mind. In order to succeed he needs to pick allies from a whole collection of lesser evils, and he needs to do it all without getting himself or any more of his friends killed. Meanwhile, in the background is the ever growing realisation that Something Is Not Right with the world, a fact that Felix Castor can no longer ignore despite his best efforts.
Mike brings together just about everyone from the previous books that are still alive (and some that have been dead a long time) and through them drives this totally engaging and page turning story. The pace is excellent with the whole book crammed into only a few high-strung days without it feeling crowded or rushed. The characters are great as ever and despite being five books in they continue to develop and change. The book is no-where near as bleak as Thicker than Water without actually being full of sunshine and the story resolves some major threads. Despite all the praise and the page-turning nature of the story, I felt somehow underwhelmed with only muted joy at the end. Not because it hadn’t been a good story or good ending, but because it’s clearly not The End and Castor knows it, and Mike wants us to know it.
I laughed a few times, I exclaimed in shock a few times and I was sad, but I was never moved to sitting on the edge of my seat, somehow the end of the last book meant pretty much anything that happened here couldn’t be as bad? Castor’s insistence that he is the cause of all the trouble his friends suffer is sometimes overwhelming and it gets between me and him, I wish he’d just let go of some of the guilt at least some of the time.
In short, it’s an excellent book with a few minor issues which hardly deserve a mention except if I didn’t, it would be a short review saying nothing but good – and then you’d want to know why it didn’t get 5 stars. If you’ve not read the first 4, go read them (make sure you have someone in the house with you when you read #4), then read this one, it’s worth it and in an ever increasingly crowded space, Mike’s prose, skill and characters stand out well above the crowd.