The Book of Peril by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsThe Book of Peril by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsThe Book of Peril by Melissa McShane

Abernathy’s Bookstore is a powerful oracle, used by the community of mages to answer important questions and foretell the future. Its proprietor, Helena Davies, is a critical part of the bookstore’s oracular function: she takes augury slips of paper with questions on them from customers, wanders among the bookshelves until she finds a book that glows to her eyes, and sells the book to the customer as the answer to their question. The price for the augury is conveniently and magically printed inside the book on the title page, along with the customer’s name. It works great … until suddenly it doesn’t.

The trouble begins when the book that glows for a particular customer’s question has the wrong customer’s name magically printed inside of it. When the next request for an augury comes in, Helena finds three glowing books on the shelves ― something that has never happened before. And the false auguries continue, making Helena seem unreliable to magical society. But Helena isn’t without resources: she has the magical ability to see through illusions that would confuse the eyes and mind of almost everyone else. And she has the ability to consult the Athenaeum, a vast library that’s the magical world’s successor to the ancient Library of Alexandria.

Meanwhile, Helena’s ex-boyfriend Chet is hanging around, hoping to reconnect with her, and worryingly unwilling to take no for an answer. Malcolm Campbell, a magus who shares a fondness for old films with Helena, is willing to protect her, but Helena (despite a fairly major crush on Malcolm) is concerned about letting him get too close to her. The Accords, the rules that govern the magical world, require the custodian of an oracular bookstore to stay strictly neutral, not favoring either of the two major factions among the magi.

The Book of Peril (2018) is the second book in Melissa McShane’s new THE LAST ORACLE series, which began with The Book of Secrets. It’s an enjoyable and fairly light urban fantasy, despite some grave dangers for our heroine and for Abernathy’s itself. With much of the world-building behind us, I found The Book of Peril much more engaging than the first book. Helena is beginning to find her footing in magical society as the custodian of Abernathy’s, the greatest oracle since Delphi. Some of the types of magic that were briefly introduced in The Book of Secrets get a chance to show their powers here. There’s a fascinating development with origami being used as a powerful tool to create illusions, and it turns out to be a major benefit that bone mages can quickly heal most types of bodily injuries.

Helena has a deepening relationship with not only Malcolm, but also Abernathy’s itself. The oracle demands respect, but Helena feels a deeper connection than that. She tells the oracle:

“I’m not angry with you. I’m angry with whoever is doing this. Because I’m convinced there’s someone behind it, and we have to figure out who. And then … then I will make that person pay for corrupting you. Because you deserve better.”


The oracle’s silence filled me. It wasn’t active, but I felt as if something were listening to me, and if I only knew the right language, I could speak with it, and everything would be all right.

The Book of Peril ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger on a personal matter for Helena, which was a little frustrating but understandable given the intended ten-book length of this series. But the central mystery posed in The Book of Peril is answered at the end … or is it? I have my doubts. We’ll have to see what happens in the next book!

Published July 2, 2018. As the custodian of the oracular bookstore Abernathy’s, Helena has faced any number of challenges in learning her new role. But when the store begins giving out false prophecies, Helena comes up against her greatest challenge yet: how can she fix Abernathy’s when she doesn’t truly know how it works? Armed only with a few special talents and her desire to protect her magical charge, and with the assistance of her best friend Viv, her reluctant assistant Judy, and the enigmatic and handsome Malcolm Campbell, Helena must navigate the treacherous depths of the magical world, where secret enemies lurk behind illusions capable of fooling even the most powerful of magical entities. Helena is the only one who can see past those illusions, but will her abilities prove strong enough to save the oracle?


  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.