Book Review – Magic to the Bone

Title: Magic to the Bone
Author: Devon Monk
Pushlisher: ROC Fantasy
Edition: Paperback
Year: 2008

I am going to work much harder at keeping a regular log of the books I read. Given just how many books I’m reading this semester my reading count should go up. That and my new goal to turn the computer off around 10 any night that’s possible. These are good goals, I think.

The first book I finished this year was Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk. She’s fairly new on the writing scene, this being her debut novel only published in 2008. I only picked it up because I went to the bookstore looking for something else. Of course, my luck being what it is with my local Borders, they didn’t have what I wanted, and I’m stubborn enough to leave with a book no matter what. Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series was on display for the release for the third book and I read the back. Urban fantasy, chick lit, no vampires or zombies. My kind of book, and still different from my usual fare. I bought it.

I really enjoyed the book, and as it is for most books I generally grow to love, it’s the characters that pull me it. I don’t trust a single person in the book. If this alternate Portland were real, and I ran into anyone, good or bad, in this book on the street, I wouldn’t trust them with a ten foot pole. I love that. I’m the kind of person that generally doesn’t like people without gaining some sort of mutual trust, but Monk made me like her cast without giving me that trust I require.

The very premise of the book is unique and enticing. Magic is a natural force that exists within the world, stored underground in reserves as well as generated in magical storms. Magic has been harnessed, piped and distributed across the city like any other utility. People are trained to access it—full university majors are devoted to the use of magic—and it’s completely immersed within a typical urban society. However, it comes with a price. For everything you do with magic, it takes from you, in the form of pain, energy, or in Allie’s case, memory loss.

That is a perfect draw to me. The magic has a method, it’s not fun and games wizardry, and it’s set in a grimy, believable, close-to-modern-day Portland. The setting is relatable. It works.

The two most interesting characters are the duo: Allie and Zayvion, Zay perhaps moreso than the title character. By the end of the story (and halfway through the second one) you still know nothing about Zayvion, not really, but you can’t help but wish you had your own Zayvion following you around and Grounding you and making sure no one tries to destroy you. He’s a character you feel like you know and yet, truly, you know absolutely nothing about. It’s brilliant characterization.

Allie, our 1st person P.O.V. character, is also very interesting. She’s a bluntly honest narrator, and knows she’s not a reliable one. Her memory loss carries to her narrating abilities, which makes the resolution frustrating to read; you want to kick Allie, give her some memories back, because you know she forgot important events and developments. Allie narrates mostly by smell, and it paints a wonderfully vivid image very different from one dominated by sight.

The writing does feel like an early book, but that can’t really be called a criticism; this was Monk’s first published novel. There are places that Allie’s narration is forced or heavy-handed, but it rarely disrupts the flow of the story. The ending is maybe a bit slow, when compared to rest of the book, but it needed to be to end the book on the note Monk intended.

All in all, a great debut, and I’m enjoying the second in the series very much. I plan to spend more time with Allie and Zayvion, and I would recommend this to any urban fantasy reader. Seeing as I am not generally an urban fantasy reader, I would recommend this to someone wanting to get their feet wet in the genre; the mystical stuff is at a minimum and it’s very much character driven.

Grade: A-

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