A Kiss Before Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton
Laurence MacNaughton is back with the second installment of his urban fantasy DRU JASPER series. This one, A Kiss Before Doomsday (2017), takes place shortly after the first book ended. Dru, a crystal witch working in Denver, Colorado, believes the love of her life, the demonically possessed Grayson, died helping her escape from the netherworld, but we know Grayson is alive and at risk. He’s been abducted by the undead, and faces a terrible fate, as does the world, if Dru cannot find him and can’t stop the remaining two seals from opening and ushering in Doomsday.
Like It Happened One Doomsday, this book bounces between serious threat, lively action and plenty of snarky humor. Dru is a sweet young woman whose magical gift is more powerful than she first realized. Her friends Rane and Opal are at her side to help her, which may not always be a good thing. Rane in particular… well, let’s say she’s hard on things. She has no tact and she’s impulsive. She can also turn into any substance she touches, specifically any metal or stone. Opal, Dru’s employee, is a regular human who knows a lot about magic, witchcraft, and vintage fashion, and loves purple.
It helps if you’ve read It Happened One Doomsday so that you understand why the seals are opening, who The Seven were and why a character might be possessed by one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This time around, Dru is forced to rely on Salem, an arrogant wizard who is also Rane’s ex. As the story progresses Dru learns that part of Salem’s bad behavior, at least, springs from a desire to keep Rane safe from harm.
Rane, like Salem, improved as a character for me in this book, probably because we see a sliver of her softer side with her ex-boyfriend, but also because Opal and her quirks got more focus. That was all to the good.
MacNaughton’s concept of the undead is new and provides lots of shivers. The last third of the story takes place in a vast underground compound drilled into the Colorado mountains. MacNaughton sells this creepy, atmospheric setting one hundred percent. I’m not sure I believed that this book’s villain would have been able to purchase all the items that he did, but the Evil Wizard’s Lair is beautifully described and made me want to build one.
As with the first book, Dru’s use of minerals and crystals is interesting and unconventional, even with Dru relying too much on ulexite. Ulexite, called “the TV stone,” is one of the group of borates and its collected fibers act like fiber-optic cables. In metaphysical practice it is believed to enhance clairvoyance. Dru uses it mostly for viewing ethereal clues; I love the mineral but I do think it is overused.
The plot moves right along as Dru wrestles with her belief that Grayson is still alive, and rushes to stop Doomsday. As I mentioned, Opal gets more time in this book and a scene where she dresses Dru and Rane for a masquerade party (vintage 1970s disco fashion) was laugh-out-loud funny. Salem’s behavior is suitably exasperating and plausible and it’s good to see Dru gaining confidence as each book finishes up. I did think a couple of plot points were very obvious, and in a couple of places the banter seemed to bring the story to a halt. Overall, though, I enjoyed this second outing.
I have to say I was far happier when Grayson’s demonic car Hellbringer reappeared on the page. Like Grayson, Hellbringer disappears early on. Hellbringer is a Dodge Daytona that holds the spirit of a speed demon. It is loyal to Grayson and therefore it will help Dru. And Hellbringer is just awesome.
The stakes in these stories are serious; we do not doubt that Doomsday will happen if our heroes can’t prevent it, but the tone is fairly light and the action is not gruesome. Most of the angst is relationship angst. A Kiss Before Doomsday is solid fun, a book I’d recommend for summer vacation or, paired with Book One, as a gift for the fantasy-loving gearhead in your life.