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The Second Summoning, Tanya Huff, DAW, 2001, 416 pp.

There's no one who writes fantasy like Tanya Huff, and once you've had a taste of her writing it's discouraging to go back to the typical offerings of the genre. Her writing has a sense of joy, a sense of its own power to entertain, and the experience is quite wondrous. Yes, it's light, but it's also incredibly well crafted. I suppose what I like best is her refusal to follow the conventions or dictates of the genre. The all powerful wizard in Stealing Magic, the updating of medieval clichés in her Quarters series, and now an urban fantasy (to pick the closest label that makes any sense) that doesn't take itself too seriously. All are examples of Huff's ability to take familiar elements and make them her own. And she does so in The Second Summoning in an uproariously funny way.

The Second Summoning is a sequel to Summon the Keeper, and many of the characters and concerns continue from the earlier book. The main character is once again Claire Hansen, a Keeper. She has the ability to sense imbalances in the reality of our world, metaphysical rifts so to speak, and is part of a loose team of Keepers who respond to such emergencies. Relationships between Keepers and Bystanders (everyone else in the world) don't work out well, but Claire is romantically involved with a Bystander named Dean. Claire is also accompanied by her cat Austin and often tormented by her younger sister Diana, who is also a Keeper. The plot of Second Summoning deals with certain consequences of a mistake on Diana's part and a development in the relationship between Claire and Dean. There's very little of the urgency typically supplied by plots in this book, yet I was hooked and turning pages relentlessly. Simply put, Huff's sense of humour kept me reading. Ironically, Huff's humorous angle kept the plot from getting too breakneck - many of the funny scenes involved the ineffectuality of the threatening characters - but the trade off was more than worthwhile in my opinion. Many books can provide a breathless series of events, but few can be truly funny.

I suppose I should give a few examples of Huff's humour, after hyping it. The first aspect of her ability to amuse: overtly funny lines that stand on their own. Some of these were funny to me because I was familiar with her subject. Case in point: "It was not possible to drive from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Kingston, Ontario in seventeen hours. For reasons unknown to mortal man - although most mortal women were aware of them as they involved asking for directions when trying to get out of Montreal - the trip from east to west took eighteen hours" (94). Ha! I know more than one person who has gotten bamboozled by Montreal. I also liked Huff's jabs at London, a city in desperate need of skewering.

Secondly, Huff has an unmatched skill at setting up situations and using them cleverly for both laughs and advancement of the story. Early in the book, Claire and Dean have gone to the garage apartment of her parents' house, and here is what happens in the rest of the house:

A six-car passenger train roared across the room and into a tunnel.

"Okay," [Austin] said thoughtfully when the noise had died. "That was different."


Waving away the lingering scent of burning diesel, Diana opened her bedroom door, fingers hooked in the trim as she leaned out into the hall. "Yeah, Dad?"

"What the blue bloody blazes was that?"

"I think it was a euphemism." The vibrations had knocked askew a set of family photographs hanging on the wall across from her. A previously serious portrait of Claire had developed a distinctly cheesy grin. "Or maybe a metaphor."

"Well, don't do it again!" (102-103)

Here Huff manages to have it both ways: the conventional euphemism to let us know what is going on, and a laugh at the expense of the same. What's more, this section is followed by an immaculately constructed gag about fire fighters playing cards.

Thirdly, I think the book owes its success more than anything to the affection with which Huff writes her characters. Claire may find her younger sister Diana to be a pest or Dean to be too helpful, but everyone rallies together in the end and saves the day because they are all basically warm-hearted people, despite the foibles and crankiness. I said before that the threatening characters are ineffectual, but this is also part of Huff's manner of treating characters: they are brought round into the fold, and the story wraps up in a happy way. The wisecracks save the ending from becoming too sentimental, thankfully, and I closed the book with a remarkably satisfied feeling. I'd laughed and enjoyed myself and my thanks go out to Huff for bringing such pleasure into the world.

Last modified: July 25, 2001

Copyright © 2001 by James Schellenberg (

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