Magic on the Line
Roc ($7.99, 356p)
Reviewed by Charlene Brusso
When most folks think of settings for urban fantasy, chances are Portland, Oregon doesn’t appear very high on the list–but a dip into this gritty paranormal series will definitely change your opinion. Monk’s Portland is rife with rain and muddled with magic–magic that comes at a painful price. Cast a spell, get a headache–or worse.
There’s also an organization called the Authority, highly secret, incredibly powerful, which has set itself up to police the use of magic. Unfortunately the Authority branch in Portland is currently run by Bartholomew Wray, an ambitious power monger who wants to clean up what he sees as a city of mages out of control.
Allie Beckstrom is a Hound, a person who uses magic to find lost things. Hounds’ abilities make them useful to the police, but they also mark them as targets for criminals and those who’d rather not be found. Over the course of the series, Allie has become a sort of den mother, loosely organizing Portland’s Hounds to watch each others backs, for their own protection. That, and the fact that she is also the unwilling host to her dead father’s spirit, make her a threat to Wray, who doesn’t like anyone with power who refuses to be under his thumb. And Allie, stubborn do-gooder that she is, definitely refuses to be pushed around by him, or anyone else.
Publically, Wray wants to clean house–but his refusal to focus on the growing threat of a magical plague that’s sweeping the city isn’t winning him any fans. The disease seems to be caused by the Veiled, ghosts of dead magic users who usually aren’t a problem–until now. Now, somehow, they’ve learned how to possess the living, infecting everyone they touch. Bodies are piling up, the city authorities don’t know who’s behind it, and the only ones who do won’t tell, or even admit there’s a problem. Wray definitely knows more about the plague than he’s saying. There’s even a chance that he’s causing it–but if he is, will Allie be able to gather enough mages with the power, and the guts, to fight him?
The last thing Allie wants is trouble with the Authority–but if Wray is dirty, she’ll do whatever she must to bring him down.
Those familiar with the series will find plenty of old friends here, from Zayvion Jones, Allie’s lover and magical “Soul Complement”, to affable Portland Police Detective Paul Stotts. New readers, on the other hand, may find themselves at sea, trying to figure out who everyone is and how their backstories fit together. While Monk does her best to filter in the necessary details while pushing the plot relentlessly, there are characters, conversations, and situations here whose true significance just isn’t clear without knowledge of the previous books.
There’s plenty of excitement and magical mystery to be had here, for those willing to persevere. Allie is an intriguing and complex main character, determined to maintain her freedom but also devoted to keeping the powerful from taking advantage of the weak. The structure of the book makes this segment very much an episode among larger events, and there’s a clear sense that things are building to a cataclysmic confrontation with the Powers That Be very soon.
If you’re looking for gritty paranormal fantasy with a unique setting and magic system, you’ve come to the right place. Start with the first book in the series, Magic to the Bone, or dive in here. No matter which you choose, you’ll find a great story.
Charlene Brusso is a science fiction & fantasy author and science writer. She also reviews science and genre fiction for several venues, from Ad Astra and Black Gate to the NY Journal of Books and the SF Site.