Early Review: The Serpent by Sarah Fine (Immortal Dealers #1)


The Serpent by Sarah Fine // VBC ReviewThe Serpent (The Immortal Dealers #1)
Sarah Fine
Published: July 24, 2018 (47 North)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Reviewed by: Margaret

Rating (out of 5): 3.5 stars

The unfortunately named Ernie Terwilliger has a fairly mundane clerical job at a hospital. She hasn’t taken a vacation in years for fear of leaving her eccentric mother alone too long. Her main form of recreation is training and competing with her Spartan race team. (For anyone else who didn’t know this was a thing, think distance race meets obstacle course.)

One day when Ernie goes to check on her mother at the antique shop she owns, she finds her being harassed by a large, intimidating man armed only with a deck of cards. When she confronts the man, Ernie ends up with a handful of his cards. And then she ends up in Scotland! She’s rescued by Gabe who introduces her to the world of the Immortal Dealers, in which she’s accidentally immersed herself.

Fines collectible card game-inspired magic system in The Serpent is something I havent seen in a book before. There are fifty-four cards featuring actions like Conceal, Reveal and Shelter, as well as objects and people, which can be combined to affect the real world. (For example, Reveal + Enemy to dispel an opponent’s camouflage.) This card-based magic leads to some really unusual action scenes, which are lots of fun.

Each deck of cards also has an animal spirit—we meet the diamondback, the kestrel and the spider early on—that can manifest in the real world. It also becomes the Dealer’s call sign. Bonding with that spirit is a little bit like a shifter mastering their inner beast, though the animal lives within the cards, not the Dealer. Ernie has to accept and respect the magic in order to bond with the deck. And, oh yeah, if she doesn’t succeed she’ll die.

I liked the fact that she didn’t become a magical prodigy overnight, but had to learn the rules of the game as she went along. I also appreciated the fact that there’s a non-magical reason for Ernie’s athletic abilities—her Spartan race training—even though she does seem to talk about it far too often.

The Dealers themselves are interesting characters. They’re all mercenaries who can be enemies or allies depending on the situation. Even Gabe isn’t squarely in the friend column at first. (He reminds me of Derek in the Soul Charmer series.) Ernie and Gabe have a kind of romance of convenience, which I wanted not to like, but I thought it worked.

There’s a pretty big hanging plot thread involving Ernie’s father that looks like it will be addressed in book two, which is out in October. I’m looking forward to seeing where Fine goes with this unique world.

Sexual content: kissing

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