“So, you want me to sell my soul for good pay?” says Kate McGovern to her colleague Jack within the first 20 pages of Pillar of Heaven. It’s a great question not only for her, but for the reader. Especially if that reader is a millennial, a writer, a person living through the 2020 economy, someone who works 60 hours a week just to get by. What workplace conditions we will accept in exchange for a six-figure salary? What kind of mission will we further for dental and a 401K? Would we dance for the devil if he offered enough paid time off?
In her debut urban fantasy, Philadelphia-based author Kitty Shields probes the real-life implications of having profound magical abilities in an era of debilitating debt and an increasingly inefficient job market.
Baristas and billionaires
Kate, a recent college grad with an English degree, a mountain of debt, and a thankless job slinging lattes at a local coffeeshop, is recruited by the cute and coy Jack into working for tycoon Edward Waites, a venture capitalist whose business success is memorialized across the Boston skyline. What initially seems to be an executive assistant position actually turns out to be an induction into a nefarious secret society that activates Kate’s latent powers of telepathy and telekinesis.
The job, even after Kate saves her unworthy boss from an assassination attempt, is an exercise in humiliation for Kate. Waites is a brute with a superiority complex who bullies his staff and screams at the slightest provocation, prompting questions about whether the billionaire hothead might be modeled on a real-life example. For her part, Kate holds her own against a rage-inducing boss, challenging him and refusing to kowtow to his self-appointed authority in a way that’s thoroughly refreshing for the young professional woman archetype.
Kate’s story hits a few familiar beats for anyone who enjoys a good fish-out-of-water tale, as she exercises her newfound powers and probes the mystery of the titular pillar of heaven, all while her boss is targeted by increasingly desperate assailants. Meanwhile, her delicious chemistry with Jack will satisfy fans of romance, even if not quite in the ways they expect.
The story has a lot of work to do, juggling an urban-fantasy setting against a Devil Wears Prada-esque plot, yet the story is engaging, taut, and well-balanced. Kate is frequently relatable, even when she’s deeply unlikable, and the characters around her are fully rounded without relying on stereotypes. Kate’s sojourn into the unseen realm of the supernatural feels fresh and enjoyable, but it’s her relationships with the characters that surround her, particularly her father and Jack, that make the story feel alive and original.
Right now, Pillar of Heaven is an essential form of literary escapism. Anyone who’s been slogging through the economic hardships that last far beyond the first few years of college will enjoy living vicariously through Kate’s magical exploits (and her massive salary, a detail that seems on par with the supernatural in terms of fantasy) and the delicious thrill of evil rich people getting their comeuppance.
Image description: The cover of the book Pillar of Heaven, by Kitty Shields. It’s an illustration of a stylish young woman with brown hair, a white shirt, and a brown skirt posing with her hands on her hips in front of a city skyline in shades of blue, with a giant white classical pillar rising above everything, with a crescent moon on top of it.
What, When, Where
Pillar of Heaven. By Kitty Shields. Independently published through Amazon Kindle Press. September 1, 2020. 190 pages, eBook, $2.99. Get it here.