Thursday, March 12, 2009

Non Laughter Reviews: MAGIC TO THE BONE

Devon Monk

Urban Fantasy

Hound (person whose magical talent lies in examining spell residue to identify the caster) gets caught in the crossfire of magical abuse, technology development, and family complications.

Girl in obligatory jeans, shortie top and tattoos, seen from behind against darkish, vaguely sinister background. In other words: generic UF-type cover, yet representative of content.

What Works
There is not a vampire, shapeshifter or demon in sight. The characters and plot are exclusively driven by variation in ability to sense, utilize, or conduct scientific research for business applications of magic. This was the first magic-centered UF story AW has read, and it was a refreshing change.
The author's world is divided into people and zones who have good/poor access to magic reservoirs (which lie beneath the city and are channeled through a pipeline structure like water or electric power), and excellent/no sensitivity to it, almost like a non-YA variation of Rowling's wizard/muggle duality. A nice touch was the addition of a social/business level to the conflict, in that the author has thought about the implications of magic in her created world beyond how strong individual characters in various smackdowns are. Not only thorough scene-setting but raises great possibilities for future plot threads.
Descriptions are intriguing and evocative of a raw, dour environment - not just because of the near-permanently overcast and cold weather and the heroine's penchant for economically depressed parts of the city, but because we see everything through her cynical, down-on-her-luck-in-every-way first person eyes. She is doing everything in her power to carve her own path apart from her mega-successful but manipulative father (and anyone else, for that matter), and to find a way to use her talent as a help rather than hindrance to others. Her complement in personality and magical affinity, the hero was a delight, standing out from the crowd of male love interests.

What Doesn't
In a case of 'A Person's Strength is also their Weakness', in different spots the author's skill at description crossed the line of well-done and veered into over-done. In scenes where characters are eating and drinking, the reader need not be reminded with every mouthful that it is still soup or wine that is being consumed. The number of times the heroine hissed 'I can take care of myself!' when she clearly could not, having to be more or less rescued by the hero time and again, became tedious, as did her chronic question of 'How do I pay for this?" whenever she needed to get anywhere. But these were minor points; larger was a feeling of nagging dissatisfaction at the end of the book. It is clear that this was intended as the launch of an ongoing series, meaning some plot threads needed to remain dangling - which is fine. Yet Apprentice Writer would have liked a finer balance of questions answered/threads left over for the sequel. A great deal of time is spent building up tension around identity and motives of a villanious character, as well as questions about an abused, talented character. Compared to the input and pace of most of the book, the ending felt too simple and non-explanatory. Will this keep AW away from the next installment? Not a chance.

An engaging series opener. The author participates in the new 'Deadline Dames' grog of paranormal, urban fantasy autors. This new arrival in the blogosphere is a welcome addition for aspiring authors, providing a wealth of clear, useful advice.


Thomma Lyn said...

Sounds like a story with intriguing and original world-building! :)

Wylie Kinson said...

TL said exactly what I was thinking... intriguing and original!

M. said...

Yes, it was! if you take a look, please let me know what you thought *g*

Julia Smith said...

I've sung the praises for this Russian urban fantasy series before, but it really is excellent:

'Night Watch' by Sergei Lukyanenko

and the sequels 'Day Watch' and 'Twilight Watch'.

The English version is of course a translation, but the world building and characters are all Lukyanenko's.

Your review for 'Magic to the Bone' makes me ponder the difficulties of ending a proposed series first book without leaving the reader dissatisfied...