When I first read Sleight of Hand: Bite Back Book 1 (Volume 1), the first book by Mark Henwick, I was, in a word, thrilled. Yes, there are a lot of unknown authors out there, many self published, and many very good. Mark, however, knocked the ball out of the park in his freshman entry into the crowded field of urban fantasy.
Mark’s exceptional grasp of character development is the first thing that gripped my attention. His main character, Amber, is a fully three-dimensional character, with a strong back story. She felt, in SoH, like someone I could see myself knowing and liking. She wasn’t an overblown character by any means, but she was tough, centered, and above all she feels ‘real’ in an unreal situation. I was very, very excited, and could hardly wait to read the next in Mark’s series. Thank goodness I read it ‘late’ i.e., not long before the next book was due to be released. It would have been a killer to have to wait a whole year for the next! (OF course, now I have to wait for the next, siiiiiggggghhhhh)
The very first day Hidden Trump became available, I sat down and started to read – and didn’t put it down until 5:47 the next morning . . .(*yawn*) I kept meaning to put it down, really I did – I did manage to feed the pups, but not to feed myself! Go to bed? Nah, just one more page. . . one more . . . one more. . .
“Hidden Trump” picks up the same day as the ending of SoH, and the excitement doesn’t stop. There is plenty of action to Mark’s books, both SoH and HT, and it keeps you riveted to the page. However, unlike other books of the genre the action is, even though it includes werewolves, Athanate and Adepts (oh, my!) amazingly believable. While she is ‘becoming’ (and that, in itself, is absolutely fascinating – one of the most creative bits of character development/mythos building I have run across in a very, very long time) and she is both strong and fast, she still takes her share of hits both emotional and physical.
There are a couple of what some would call ‘oddball’ things about Mark’s work that left me more than a little impressed. You may laugh at what it is – military and political knowledge. I have quite a bit of it myself, and Mark’s knowledge is almost scarily correct, for a ‘Brit’ – LOL. Secret military groups, political machinations, the fleecing of the American public by the rich, drugs and guns and bad guys (oh, my!) Oh, yea, Mark knows his stuff! Sound boring? Believe me, it is anything but. Amber’s interactions with the military that turned their backs on her after ten years of totally dedicated service touched me on a deep level. Her dedication, repaid by betrayal, is the story of the American military/political system. I know, I know, lay off it, this is an urban fantasy, right? Yes, but what I just spoke of is paramount to who Amber is, her motivations, and her deep commitment to helping others.
Mark’s character development is still spot-on, his world is continuously building throughout both books (and I am sure it will be in the next installments also) and is all the more outstanding for it. Mark doesn’t fall into the ‘pure style’ trap that so many other writers seem to fall into. There are background characters in Amber’s life, most especially Top (whose story was learned in SoH) whose history is integral to Amber’s and requires full development as character, even if they sometimes lead away from what is going on at the moment. It all fits together. Mark doesn’t disappoint.