When real magic is possible, would the Vegas kind satisfy you? It doesn’t for Quinn Bradley, the protagonist of Dan Koboldt’s Island Deception. Quinn, a stage magician, has worked his whole life for the big show in Las Vegas, and with a little help, he finally accomplishes his goal. The opportunity of a lifetime is his for the taking. But his curiosity and heart are drawn back to the little island where he learned that magic – the fireball kind – exists. Lucky for Quinn, CASE Global Enterprises needs his help back in Alissia.
Before we get into the review, here’s a quick disclosure: I was provided an advanced copy for an honest review. I also know Dan and occasionally contribute essays to his blog as part of the Science in Sci Fi and Facts in Fantasy series.
As a fan of The Rogue Retrieval, I looked forward to returning to the land of real magic. Dan didn’t disappoint with a fun tale that has me ready for book 3.
From the publisher:
What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.
But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well… For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic. He misses it. Luckily–or not–CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task:
Help take Richard Holt down.
It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds–a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia–if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.
He also might learn how to use real magic himself.
The Gateways to Alissia series – starting with The Rogue Retrieval and continuing in The Island Deception – is best described as a portal fantasy in the vein of Stargate: SG-1. Opening on Earth in the Las Vegas strip, The Island Deception sets the stakes in our world, but the path to success lies in Alissia. Quinn Bradley returns as our main character, who reaching the peaks of Vegas showmanship is still drawn to possibilities he found in the Enclave. Also returning are his team of Kiara, Logan, Chaudri, and Mendez, the CASE Global operatives sent in-world with Bradley. The magic of The Rogue Retrieval was the cast of characters, and they are back in Alissia on assignment for CASE Global Enterprises.
Being a second novel, The Island Deception jumps into the action faster than The Rogue Retrieval, and the whole novel benefits from the quicker pace. Whereas the first book had to set the stage, this one uses that stage to get right into the action. This time around, cracks have formed in the team due to personal agendas and loyalty to the company. The interpersonal dynamics has changed from the group’s first trip through the portal together. Dan does a good job balancing the character beats with forward movement of the plot, and the character tensions are that extra spice that elevates from good to wow. With the ominous presence of CASE Global always in the background, the characters feel squished between their employer, team, and morals.
I enjoyed returning to Alissia. Even though it is a second novel, the world building continues. Dan gives the reader cultural cues and flairs seamlessly. For me, world building is something that varies from novel to novel depending on story, style of writing, and author’s ability. Too much or too little can overshadow the narrative; it has to serve a specific purpose. The Island Deception gets it right. What I learned about the fantasy world came through character. Instead of information dumps, Dan uses social settings that not only advance the plot but show the depth of the various cultures he’s created. Whether it’s the sparse haughty dinner of the aristocrats or the more social, sharing nature of others, the characters show rather than tell.
Sequels are always tricky, and the middle books in trilogies are incredibly difficult. The author has set both a floor, in the previous book, and a ceiling, the final installment. But a novel also requires some change from the beginning. As with most secondary books in a trilogy, The Island Deception closes individual plot threads while at the same time making only a little progress on the overarching story. While the book contains many character and plot points, the ending doesn’t feel like a finish. If, like me, you think the journey is more important than the destination, then this is a small quibble.
The Island Deception is a fast, fun sequel to The Rogue Retrieval. Once again Quinn and crew step through that portal to further the interests of a shadowy corporation. The return to Alissia increases the stakes and sets up the stage for book 3. Bring on The World Awakening.
TL;DR – Highly recommended for fans of adventure fiction and fantasy.