Tanya Huff,
Long Hot Summoning
(DAW, 2003)

Diana, the youngest and most powerful Keeper, is newly come of age and eager to get her first summoning -- but why does it have to be in Kingston, where her big sister Claire runs a guesthouse (formerly a gateway to Hell) and dominates the supernatural scene? Still, a summons can't be ignored, so the new high school graduate grabs her cat Sam (recently an angel) and heads for the nearest shopping mall.

A troll-run gift shop is providing the anchor for a new attempt by dark forces to latch onto our world and gain influence over us all. An access hallway provides the means for Diana, Sam and Claire to enter the Otherworld and confront those forces head on -- where they find allies in the form of young runaways, now elves, and their archetypal leader, a teenage King Arthur. An eerie security guard patrols both sides of reality. Diana thinks one of Arthur's captains is extremely cute. And the solution to all their problems might lie in the magic of a cheap, pink, plastic wand -- if only they dared to use it.

Meanwhile, Dean (Claire's beau) and Austin (Claire's cat) grapple with a life-sucking mummy back home.

Huff continues to expand the premise that there are people (Keepers and the less-powerful Cousins) who maintain the balance between good and evil in the world. In Long Hot Summoning, she further develops the central characters from earlier volumes of The Keeper Chronicles while introducing some clever new ones to keep the story fresh. (I suspect we'll see the magic mirror again.)

The Hansen sisters, as well as assorted love interests, relatives and felines, are among the more interesting characters jockeying for space on your bookshop shelves. If you haven't made their acquaintance yet, do so now -- better yet, start at the beginning and work your way through the series in its proper order. (Each book can stand alone, but there is a logical progression of events and character development.)

But, while some readers will applaud the sharp differences between this book and the previous two, others (myself among them) might hesitate at the change of venue. Huff's first two books in this series dealt with supernatural elements intruding into the real world, and that mix is part of what made the books so much fun. Now, the Keepers leave our world to mix it up with the badness in a parallel dimension -- and that somehow weakens the story, overwhelming the story with fantasy.

The "evil" mall gets a little too silly, sometimes. There are, perhaps, a few too many attempts at "clever" wordplay -- if someone's eyes are following you across the room, you can bet there'll be eyeballs rolling along at your heels -- but the book, like its predecessors, manages to be funny while retaining some level of serious peril. Also, Diana's lesbian chic is pushed a little too hard -- less of an "I dare you to be offended" attitude than "I bet this turns you on."

But, while Summoning is the weakest of the three novels so far, it's still an enjoyable read. The adventures of Claire (with or without her sister) are a guaranteed fun time, and this is no exception. This one's a Keeper!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 28 June 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.