A Transcendental Habit – James Callan (Queer Space/Rebel Satori Press)

As I’ve often said, one of my favorite things about doing this blog is running into new books, especially the odd one I can’t classify or stick into a convenient box for labeling. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s sublime when it does. Such is the case with James Callan’s A Transcendental Habit, which is part quest, part buddy/caper novel, part romance, and part urban fantasy. But its congealed whole is a fascinating, wild ride you’ll heartily enjoy.

Our POV character, Jarred, lives in Nyvyn–known to the locals as Palindrome or Drome–making a living flipping chicken at Taco Nirvana and cruising the mean streets of nastytown. Until he runs into Bee, that is. Bee is a powerfully attractive stranger Jarred meets during one of his street sojourns, bearing a bionic eye and leg. They have a drink at the Bee and Lily, named after Bee and his sister, Lily, who runs the bar. Jarred finds out Bee is the ex of a guy named Avid Argyle, who discovered a drug called Squidge, a miracle psychedelic curative made from caterpillar larvae. Argyle, however, took too much and became a demigod who parted with Bee on bad terms. Bee wants to stop Argyle but needs help and so turns to Jarred as well as his sister and her significant other, a shapeshifter named Ren. Together, they fight enemies underground in the sewers and on a debris-laden landscape to achieve Bee’s goal.

If this sounds convoluted, it only does so in summary. The story unfolds rapidly and logically, hooking the reader with Jarred’s incredibly tasty voice. It’s just world weary and cynical enough to be interesting without sounding harsh or judgemental. The world he and the others inhabit is also fascinating–properly dystopian but not alien. Callan’s world building is subtle yet distinctive, with a polished finesse guaranteed to take you out of your everyday life and drop you somewhere very, very different.

What I really liked here is that the narrative defies your expectations. Take, for example, the relationship between Jarred and Bee. Jarred, at more than a few points, thinks he might have found The One (hence the part romance I referenced above), but after the denouement, that doesn’t happen–any further, and I’d have to give a plot point away. What appear to be answers only lead to more questions, especially where relationships are involved. The one between Lily and Ren is more stable, but you get the feeling they’ve been together longer and have a lot of history.

Callan’s battle/action scenes run with clockwork precision, well mapped out and executed with speed and tension. However, that leads me to my only caveat. The final battle feels anticlimactic at first. On reflection, though, you’ll find that it’s the only way it could have ended considering what had gone before. And if this leads you to suspect you’ll think about this book for a while after you’ve finished it, you’d be right.

A Transcendental Habit, then, is a terrific read. It’s funny, it’s fast, it’s unusual, and it’s totally absorbing. I finished it in a couple of sittings and found myself wanting more. Highly recommended!


© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler


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