Hard Magic by laura anne gilman

Read  December 2017
Recommended for fans of CSI, urban fantasy
★    ★    ★  

End of the year cleaning, both my TBR list and my bookshelves. I’ve read it before and liked it, but couldn’t remember if it really deserved its shelf space or not. A likeable heroine and a team-based, forensic approach to a murder sets it apart from other series.

The story begins with Bonita Torres post-interview, mulling her trouble finding work after graduation from college. Despite her mentor’s objections, she decides to respond to a mysterious invitation to an interview. After a stressful interview, she and four other people are offered a position with a brand-new firm seeking to apply magic to forensic science and use it in the magical community.

The team needs to learn to work together, as well as develop magical forensics skills. Their first client is a wealthy daughter and Chicago Council member who wants them to discover if her parents truly suicided or were murdered.The plotting is slow-growing but organic. I would think that readers who prefer frequent conflict might find the pacing slow. However, it gave time to develop Bonita into a real person, as well as allowing the group to start to blend. She is struggling with issues of identity as a new adult, particularly accepting financial support from her mentor, while she makes a life in a new city. In many ways, she still felt very young and very believable to me (mainly because I’m so old) as she wrestled with those issues.

The setting is the same as Gilman’s other UF series, The Retrievers. Magic and fairy creatures (called fatae) exist, but are hidden from the ‘Nulls’ of the world. Magic operates a great deal like electrical current, which unfortunately causes problems with technology. Within the society of people with magic, it is divided into a more codified, elite system of Council members and their families, and people who prefer to operate independently, ‘lonejacks.’ Bonita bridges both worlds as the daughter of a lonejack and the mentee of a former Council member.

Bonita is a likeable person with a healthy sex drive. It’s initially sex-positive but distracting as she seems to note everyone’s attractiveness, frequently at an inopportune time. Gilman also writes romances under a pen name, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s perspective has seeped into her characterization. It mostly lends itself to building a potential relationship with another character, but it doesn’t progress significantly in this book. For a sub-plot, it doesn’t pay off here, possibly leaving romance-focused readers disappointed.

Overall, it was slow, but decent. Unlike other reviewers, I had a sense that magic was tricky and that the team worked hard to develop their skills. This is frequently stressed through long days at the office, setbacks, burned/bloodstained clothes, etc. While the writing didn’t sing to me, neither did I distract with awkward phrasing or literary digressions. I was disappointed in the general lack of women in the book, given the team format. Sharon is the only other female member of the 7 person team and mostly exists as the straight-laced, uptight, dominating woman stereotype.

Verdict? Glad I read it and I’ll give the next a shot (looks like I read it but it was totally unmemorable) but I don’t think it needs a spot on my shelves. But I’ll keep it until I read the next one to be sure.



About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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