Every now and then I’ve seen one of Rachel Aaron’s books come across my feed, and I usually pause to consider whether or not I want to read it (trying to keep my TBR somewhat realistic here). I was finally tempted by her DFZ series, and by the lure of ‘minimum wage.’ Because who doesn’t want to read about trying to make it in a magical world as low-wage jane, right? Come to think of it, many of the ones I’ve read have minimum-wage protags: a merc, a tour guide, a mechanic, and a waitress.
Anyway, the hook is that Opal is a Cleaner, meaning she basically is one of those people from Storage Wars, bidding on evicted or empty properties, earning money by selling the stuff and cleaning the unit. She’s been very good at it, until today, when she discovers a dead person in her latest acquisition. Desperate for money, she agrees to take whatever she can, which includes a set of complicated magical formulas. Before long, she’s in a race against time to identify the formula and protect herself from the goons trying to kill her.
With a chase plot and a formula McGuffin, Aaron keeps the pace moving quickly, so it’s easy to get sucked into the book. Opal seems pretty pragmatic, and as she’s tracking down leads to the dead man’s other properties, she has a fortuitous run-in with Nik Kos, a competitor and co-worker of sorts. Though the relationship seems antagonistic, there is clearly some spark there. But this isn’t a PNR storyline by any means; Opal is focused on her financial objective, as well ostensibly staying focused on isolating herself for her longer-term independence.
It’s good that the plot and characters are interesting, as the more I learned about the world, the more puzzled I became. It’s apparently a blend of both technology and magic–tech enough that Opal can have an AI, Sybil, that uses her goggles to interface with the world and be a virtual ’emotional support AI,’ and magic enough that Opal has her own brand of magic that doesn’t conform well to how magic is currently practiced. The A.I. is occasionally shrill, often funny, and occasionally orients the reader, so it’s generally an useful device here. Oh, and there’s a serious cyborg lady in here, cyborg enough that she doesn’t eat like a human.
As far as concrete surroundings (ha, ha), there is the city of Detroit; after a couple of big events, it now has it’s own goddess who is prone to moving buildings and skyways around on a moment’s notice. It’s not clear how this is done without severe loss of life, only inconvenience, because, magic, but I confess I was extremely curious. It’s a fun concept. Events require Opal and Nik to go deep into Underground; at first I expected something on the order of the Labyrinth, but it turns out it was more an M.C. Escher painting crossed with Martha Well’s floating islands in the Raskura novels. I.Don’t.Even.
I think Aaron started to lose me here. Although this might have tied to something from another one of her series, what it mostly seemed like is that she wasn’t squaring her world up. It’s funny, because I had just been in a brief discussion bemoaning how some authors seemed to be choosing fantasy, perhaps because they think the world-building ‘rules’ are easier to follow than sci-fi. I’m not saying they have to go Brandon Sanderson on it, but as discussed in tvtropes, the author pushes the suspension of disbelief too far.
The ending was decent, with some good and bad. There was an extended soliloquy, for those that might miss The Message, but I agreed with it, so preaching to the choir, I guess. I like that Opal talked something out with Nik. I felt like resolution regarding a revelation was poorly done, and could have been problem solved, but since it becomes the basis for the next book, I guess I get what Aaron is doing. She’s a curious author, that’s for sure. Some parts I like, some parts I think are too simple, and some parts seem to be thought out, while others don’t seem to be thought out at all. Perhaps that’s because there’s more ahead?
Two and a half quarantine masks.