Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

Title: Magic to the Bone
Author: Devon Monk
Series: Allie Beckstrom, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 4 November 2008

Using magic meant it used you back. Forget the fairy-tale, hocus-pocus, wave a wand and bling-o, sparkles and pixie dust crap. Magic, like booze, sex, and drugs, gave as good as it got.

Everything has a cost. And every act of magic exacts a price from its user - maybe a two-day migraine, or losing the memory of your first kiss. But some people want to use magic without paying, and they Offload the cost onto innocents. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell's caster - and Allison Beckstrom's the best there is.

Daughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune - and the strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magic Offload that has her father's signature all over it, Allie is thrown into the high-stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic.

Now Allie's out for the truth - and must call upon forces that will challenge everything she knows, change her in ways she could never imagine ... and make her capable of things that powerful people will do anything to control.
Devon Monk has given us a world where magic exists, but it's not a pretty world. There are steep prices for using magic of any sort, and as always, there are ways to circumvent the system. Allie's gift allows her to track those that would wish to hide their magical doings. She prefers to go her own way, forgetting the blood she shares with the man who made harnessing magic possible - her father.

When the story opens it's Allie's birthday, and she's determined to do something nice for herself. Unfortunately, her plans go awry and she ends up getting called out the Hound when a boy gets deathly sick. When that hounding leads her to believe her father is responsible for this illegal Offload, Allie goes to confront him.  Seven years since she's seen him last, and all the old bitterness and disappointment comes back so easily - especially when she finds out her father has hired a man, Zavyion Jones, to trail her. She thought she had all the shocks that would come her way, but she was wrong. It was just beginning.

I really enjoyed that the world the Devon Monk created was gritty. The use of magic left a residue that you could smell and feel in the air, the earth, the water. The characters can set Disbursements that allow the magic offload to be handled in a specific way, sometimes through proxies and sometimes through specific effects on themselves. It's a well realized world, filled to the brim with possibilities. I think there's a lot of room for us to see more here.

I really enjoyed experiencing this book through Allie. She's a strong, stubborn, honorable person. She likes helping people, using her magic to protect and do good, and has her own set of code that she tries to live by. I also really like that she can at turns be impulsive, rash even, and at others she can be extremely cautious. She doesn't mind paying the price for using her magic, accepts it as the cost of living how she wants to. I find this admirable, but I have a problem with it too. One of her major costs of doing magic is memory loss - hours, days, weeks, months? I'm not sure if I can trust her to be a reliable narrator, to actually move forward into any sort of life, and the one thing measure she's taken to make sure she doesn't forget forever is writing in a notebook. But the notes she writes are inconsistent, vague, and not detailed enough, in my opinion. However, this is a minor complaint.

There are some alternating third-person point-of-view scenes in this book too, but they felt unnecessary unless that character comes to be more important in the future.

Then there's Zavyion. Allie was very drawn to him from the beginning, even against her own better judgement. He's an intriguing character. I feel like we didn't get to know enough about him as he spent a good portion of the book evading answering any questions. But I do know that his actions spoke fairly loud and I want to know him more.

The pacing of the story felt a little slow to me. While I was curious the entire time I was reading, it took me about 90 pages to really get interested in what was going to happen. What I didn't like is that there seemed to be far too much talk, and little action. Allie does some magic and then spends the next 75 pages talking about what she learned, what it could mean, what she should do now. I would have liked some more action. Though I can appreciate that a first book in a series is going to take some time setting everything up.

Overall, I enjoyed this intro to Allie Beckstrom's world, though I felt there were some areas that could have drawn me in even more. If you're looking for a gritty world with depth, and a strong heroine, then I'd definitely recommend trying Devon Monk's Magic to the Bone.

Grade: B-

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