Kyra's star ratings:
Story: * * * * *
Characters: * * * * *
Writing: * * * * *
Emotional engagement: * * * * *
Grace Under Fire is a wild ride through a world filled with tricky magic and lurking threats with two amazing characters. Grace is a Summoner with only middling powers but mad rune skillz who is sent to deal with a difficult problem that the other Summoners in her local group (Grove) would really rather not have to deal with. While trying to figure out what wiped out the entire Grove of Summoners in Spokane, she runs across a teenage boy, Robert, a foster kid who has just discovered his own Summoning powers, to disastrous effect. Summoning is one of the worst crimes there is in this alternate version of our world, and Grace and Robert have to keep out of trouble with local law enforcement while battling a giant, evil, massively powerful, orange raccoon-porcupine demon from another dimension (dubbed "Rick"). It sounds absurd, and it is, but that thing is also one of the scariest monsters I've ever come across.
The book almost bogs down a little at the beginning, when Grace is explaining how Summoning and runes work, but her voice and the problem she's trying to solve are engaging enough that I kept going, and then she found herself stuck with a much bigger problem. And then it gets to the first chapter in Robert's point of view, and that's where the book really takes off, and never lets go until the end.
The story is told in alternating first-person point of view, which can be hard to pull off, but Grace's and Robert's voices are so distinct and the characters are so engaging that it works beautifully. Robert's voice and outlook especially made the book for me. He's a band geek (as a former band geek myself, I always appreciate finding one as the protagonist in a book, which doesn't happen nearly often enough), a smart kid, world-wise in some ways from being shuffled through the foster-care system for all of his teenage years but still very much a little boy in other ways. Grace is a fun character too, with her interesting combination of skills and obsession with good food.
The magic system is complex, and the one minor flaw in the book is that sometimes the explanations of how it works are a little complicated, but they're integrated pretty well into the action and once I got the hang of the idea behind it, it was pretty easy to follow how it worked.
The action is wild and suspenseful, and even when the fight against Rick the Demon Raccoon lets up for a bit, you still know it's out there and you're wondering how in the world Robert and Grace are going to deal with it. The ending fight is long, but the action is nonstop and constantly escalating, and I couldn't put the story down.
The writing is clear, smooth, and vivid, with a wry sense of humor and a lot of understated emotion.
The book seems to be aimed at an adult audience, but I think older teen boys would also enjoy it very much.
I highly recommend Grace Under Fire, and am looking forward to the next book in the series and more adventures with Grace and Robert.