Title: Dirty Magic
Author: Jaye Wells
Publisher: Orbit, January 2014
Series: Prospero’s War, book 1
THE BOOK: Kate Prospero is a cop in the Babylon Police Department (Babylon appears to be a stand-in for a rust belt city like Detroit or Pittsburgh). At the beginning of the novel she interrupts a crime in progress, chases the suspect, and is forced to kill him in self-defence. This was not a normal mugging, however. The dead perp has been deformed into a werewolf like monster, presumably by some new potion on the streets. In this world, potions are the new street drugs, and magical covens that create and push the potions stand in for gangs and/or mob families. Kate gets pulled onto the task force run out of the Magical Enforcement Agency (MEA) as the Babylon PD liaison. She has other qualities that get her a place on the task force however. The biggest of these is that Kate is a Prospero, niece to one of the most notorious coven leaders and former potion stirrer herself (although she tries to keep that under wraps). The investigation will bring her back in contact with the Votary Coven, including former lover John Volos, who was once her uncle’s heir but who has apparently turned legit.
MY TAKE: I liked everything about this book, starting with the character of Kate. She is strong, but with real vulnerabilities. She has a shady past, a lot of responsibilities and she’s afraid of her own power. But she keeps trying and will do anything to protect her young brother. The supporting characters are also fantastic, including bratty brother Danny, horny senior citizen neighbor Baba, the rest of the MEA crew and intriguing old love interest Volos. The use of a made-up city rather than Chicago or Buffalo or any other rust belt metropolis was interesting, but perhaps Wells just wanted her own sandbox to play in. And the magic! I can’t wait to learn more about the magic system. There’s also a whole criminal underworld to play in, only hinted at here, and some possible love interests to be explored in the future. I can’t wait to continue this series.
Fantasy: Squarely in the urban fantasy arena, although with the one step of distance created by using a made-up city rather than a real-world locale. The magic is fascinating, with potion cooking and addiction an urban blight. Kate, working the slum beat (called the Cauldron here) mostly encounters the dirty magic she grew up with, but there is apparently magic used everywhere. I hope the line between clean and dirty magic will be explored further in the series.
Mystery: The mystery here is who is flooding the streets of Babylon with the new potion Grey Wolf. It’s a good one, with obvious lowlife suspects, the possibility that her former lover was involved and the escalation of stakes when Danny is thrown into the line of fire.
Romance: There was no real romance in this first volume, although there is certainly the possibility of one to come. Both hunky MEA agent Morales and a lingering attraction to Volos show possibilities, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if romance stayed in the back seat.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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