Desert Isle Keeper
White Trash Warlock
Narrated by Michael David Axtell
David R. Slayton’s White Trash Warlock was recommended to me a while back (by Gregory Ashe, no less) so when I saw it in the Audible Plus catalogue, I pounced on it – and I’m so glad I did, because I was completely glued to it for the entire nine-and-a-bit hours of its run-time. The story is inventive, the central character is flawed, complex and captivating (just how I like ‘em!) and the narration is really good, so it was a win all round.
Adam Binder has low-level psychic and magical abilities that are often more of a burden than a gift. Aged just twenty, he lives with his Great-Aunt Sue in Guthrie, Oklahoma and is estranged from the rest of his family; his father left when he was young, his mother doesn’t seem to care and he hasn’t seen his brother Robert (now a doctor in Denver) since Robert had him committed to an institution at thirteen because Adam was hearing voices. Adam got out as soon as he turned eighteen and now spends much of his time tracking down and destroying dangerous magical artefacts and trying to find their creator, a warlock he suspects may be his father.
Given their estrangement, Robert is the last person Adam expects to hear from – even less does he expect a request for help. Robert’s wife Annie has begun behaving extremely erratically and Robert has seen things in her behaviour that suggest to him that whatever is wrong with her may be something supernatural. He asks Adam to come to Denver to do what he can to help; Adam is reluctant but he goes. Whatever is wrong, Annie doesn’t deserve it – and also, he has a lead that points to the artefacts he’s been searching for originating from somewhere in Denver.
The reunion between the brothers – and Adam and their mother – is uneasy at best, but when Adam sees Annie, he realises she’s possessed by some sort of spirit entity. A visit to the hospital where Robert works reveals a connection between it and the spirit – while he’s looking around, the spirit tries to kill Adam, and when a couple of cops inadvertently get in the way and one of them is killed, Adam manages to save the life of the other by giving him a strand of his own life-force, making it impossible for the Reaper to claim him and unwittingly creating a bond between himself and the young police officer.
It doesn’t take Adam long to discover that whatever is going on, it’s affecting more than just Annie – the entire magical community in Denver has been affected and its magicians are all dead. As Adam investigates further, he finds some unexpected allies, learns more about his past and finds himself at the centre of a long-game being played by immortals – who want the spirit dealt with but want someone else to do their dirty work.
White Trash Warlock is a superb piece of storytelling featuring an intriguing and well-constructed mystery plot, strong worldbuilding, a burgeoning romance and a compelling, engaging and relatable protagonist. When he was young, Adam was wronged by the very people who should have been looking out for him and he feels like he’s broken – but somehow, he has retained his kindness and compassion, and the fact that he’s ‘ordinary’ – he isn’t well-educated, doesn’t have a real job, and his magic isn’t particularly powerful – is quite refreshing. The bulk of the story is told from his perspective, although there are a handful of chapters told from Robert’s PoV; I thought that was an odd decision when I first looked at the list of contents, but then realised that it was a good way of integrating elements of Adam’s backstory as there were things Robert knew that Adam didn’t or couldn’t know.
There’s a romance in the story although it’s not the main focus – and that works perfectly well in context. This is a series featuring the same characters, so there’s time for it to develop and I’m quite looking forward to seeing where the author goes with it.
Mr. Slayton skilfully integrates his fantastical world with the ‘real’ one, has devised an interesting magic system and paces the story extremely well, gradually ramping up the tension and the stakes until we’re racing towards a thrilling and exciting climax.
Michael David Axtell – a new-to-me narrator – delivers an excellent performance all round, assigning distinct, recognisable character voices to a fairly large cast, and he differentiates effectively between all of them by using a variety of tone, timbre and accent. I enjoyed his interpretation of the elven princess Argent, her posh accent, slight drawl and haughty demeanour perfectly conveying her confidence and status, and I liked the way he voices Adam’s love interest, Vic Martinez , who is sweet, grounded and fun. Mr Axtell’s portrayal of Adam is the real high point though; he perfectly captures every aspect of his personality – his kindness, his humour, his insecurities – and brings him vividly to life.
Full of magic, supernatural creatures and likeable characters, White Trash Warlock is an enthralling mix of mystery and fantasy with a slight horror vibe that gets this inventive urban fantasy series off to an exciting start. I already have book two, Trailer Park Trickster, in my Audible library, but I gather it ends on a big cliffhanger so I’m waiting for news of book three before I listen to it! (Patience has never been my strong suit, however.) In the meantime, White Trash Warlock earns a strong recommendation and a place on my keeper shelf.
Breakdown of Grade: Narration – B+; Story – A-
Running Time: 9 Hours 19 Minutes