There is something mysterious about the America of the interwar period. Despite all the trappings of modernity (I remember thinking in eleventh grade that the 1920s was the first time my country started to look like something I’d recognize), there are enough things unknown, lurking in quiet corners and small towns, to provide for a proper fantasy story.
Just so with The Jupiter Knife, released in February 2021 by Baen Books, and written by D.J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey. The Jupiter Knife is also the first sequel to The Cunning Man, which I reviewed here.
The Jupiter Knife returns to Depression-era rural Utah, a desert populated by Latter-Day Saints (of whom Butler is one), miners, and many bits and bobs of the supernatural.
It is also a place where strange things are afoot, as the two main characters, father and son, both “cunning men” with supernatural tools at their disposal, arrive to solve the murder of a child.
This book continues to develop protagonists Hiram and Michael Wooley by exposing them to something they did not have in the last book: fame. They are now well-known for solving the problems of this rapidly settling frontier, and they have to contend with the fact that they are not as clandestine as they once were. This changes the dynamic of their interactions with others, which is new and refreshing.
The dynamic duo is developed in other ways too. Hiram is tempted in a way that, if he were to take his faith literally, would require him to pluck his eye out. Michael is getting older and more mature, and in some regards this novel is a magical Bildungsroman in his regard. Butler and Ritchey have successfully avoided letting their characters fall to staleness.
The plotting is just as tight and convoluted — in a good way, I stress — as the first book, with all the twists and turns I associate with Butler’s work. (Unfortunately I cannot say I have read anything else by Ritchey.)
The Jupiter Knife is another occult-filled thrill-ride, worthy of the same acclaim I lavished on its predecessor. It is awash in period flavor as well as mystical elements; those who are looking for worthy historical fantasy could do far worse than this solid series.