Magic To The Bone
Published 2008 355 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
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 Allie Beckstrom is the best there is.
Daughter of a prominent 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 would 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…
Magic To The Bone is the first book in the Allie Beckstrom urban fantasy series by Devon Monk. These books follow events in the life of Allie, a somewhat down-on-her-luck magic user/investigator from Portland. The series is currently seven books strong and has a dedicated fan following, yet this book doesn’t get it off to the smoothest of starts.
At its heart Magic To The Bone is a fairly standard addition to the urban fantasy genre. The story is mostly narrated in first person by Allie, who is standard UF heroine material. She has a great, yet previously unknown magical potential that she discovers during the course of her story. She appears to be fairly tough, regularly getting hurt in the course of doing good yet still managing to drag herself onwards in the pursuit of good, or justice, or whatever – because I’m really not entirely sure what was going on for half the novel!
For the first novel in a series the world building was pretty slim. Readers are told a lot about what magic can’t do, what it’s impossible to do and what the dire consequences of doing magic are – but it is never coherently explained what magic actually CAN do, and how magic works. This left me baffled for a large part of the story about why people would bother with magic at all and for parts of the book I just wasn’t really sure what was going on. There were smells, lights and odd feelings but I’m still drawing a blank for the most part. Poor fantasy world building aside, Monk does a great job of turning Portland into a run-down, grimy, rainy, and frankly fairly depressing setting for the story – but it works well, helping to create a dangerous atmosphere in the story’s background and in places ramp up dramatic tension.
The plot follows the standard UF course of magical investigation, leading to great danger and possible death, while the heroine gains hitherto unknown powers and starts a relationship with a guy that could be her enemy… blah, blah, blah. Plotwise there isn’t much new here and without amazing world building there is little to make this story standout from the crowd. While Magic To The Bone is in no way a bad book, it struggles to get beyond average – in fact the story was just plain boring in places.
Romantic interest is provided by Zayvion, a guy Allie’s dad hired to follow her. Apart from the fact that he’s been stalking her, Allie knows little about him other than he’s really attractive and has secrets. The relationship between them is an uneasy mix of gushy romance and UF sexy times. The final straw was a steamy clinch in a parked car, in the middle of the day, in a public place, while an unconscious guy who’d been stabbed lay half-dead on the back seat. Is this sexy, or just ridiculous?
Yet the biggest disappointment was the treatment of Allie’s memory loss – the price that she pays for using magic. As readers we knew where Allie was on the night of her father’s murder because we’d read all about it, yet she doesn’t know because she can’t remember. If you’ve ever read White Cat in Holly Black’s Curse Workers UF series you’ll know just what a brilliant plot device magical memory loss can be. In Magic To The Bone the author wastes clever opportunities and just leaves readers with the annoyance of having to go through Allie rediscovering what we already know (and it wasn’t that interesting the first time we experienced it.)
I love urban fantasy books and I’m more than willing to overlook genre clichés and samey plots but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t feel the love for Magic To The Bone. The length of the Allie Beckstrom series and size of its fan base says I’m probably in the minority here – so feel free to ignore my bitching and make up your own mind on this one.
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