Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dirty Magic (The Prospero's War #1) by Jaye Wells

Kate Prospero is a beat cop in the city Babylon and though she is well experienced with magic and it's harmful effects she is almost killed one night when in the course of duty, Kate runs down a werewolf.  They struggle and Kate is forced to use lethal force.  What she does not realise at the time is that this one event is going to drag up skeletons from her past and make her a part of the urgent race to get a deadly new potion off the streets.

I chose to read Dirty Magic because I enjoyed Wells's Sabina Kane series.  It turns out that this new series is nothing like her previous work.  Dirty Magic is essentially a police procedural with elements of the supernatural thrown in.  If you are the type of urban fantasy reader who is heavily invested in a large world, this may not be the book for you. The greatest problem with this book for me, is that it was unbelievably slow.  There were times when I thought about giving up and I felt every one of the four hundred pages I slogged through.  The motivation of the antagonist were petty at best and it was evident once he was introduced his role in the story despite the slight of hand that Wells employed.

Kate is the typical urban fantasy heroine in that she has the requite tragic past, which includes the truly predictable dead mother. Considering the high death rate of mothers in urban fantasy, it is astonishing that women still wish to reproduce but I digress.  Kate goes to group therapy meetings to deal with her addiction to potion casting. The problem with this so-called addiction is that Kate in no way functioned like an addict - granted she had been clean for ten years - but the urge to consume a substance one is addicted to never goes away.  Kate is also heavy on moralizing and preaching to people and it became tedious after awhile.  How many times does an author have to assert that the protagonist is the "good guy." 

Dirty Magic did past the Bechdel Test. I know it's a low barometer but so much media today does not even come close to passing.  Pen, Kate's BFF is well educated, strong and completely no nonsense. I like that she repeatedly called Kate out on her bull.  I liked that the relationship between these two women was balanced.  Kate made a point of making sure to listen to Pen's concerns even though she was having a hard time in her personal life and chastised herself for dumping on Pen too often.  Their relationship felt real to me. We also had the entertaining Baba - the witch next door.  Baba often functioned as comic relief, and she is best described as the dirty old woman many of us desire to become in our advanced years.

Well's did include a few characters of colour chief amongst them Morales, Kate's partner.  Morales is cold, direct and to the point.  We learn about his tragic past but there is nothing about him that highlights his culture. Mez pretty much get the same treatment. If you're going to create a character of colour, cultural markers are necessary.  When Wells did get around to giving a character of colour cultural markers she went over board and created the trope laden Thomas Franklin.  "Well shiiit," as Franklin said, at least Wells was kind and we were only forced to endure Franklin for a few pages.

I really wanted to like this book but I found the story dragged and I struggled to remain engaged.  Based on the strength of the Sabina Kane series, I am willing to give this series one more chance to engage me.  I don't like police procedural and this is essentially what Dirty Magic is.  It did little to sell me on the fantastical element of this story even with flying taxis.  The world just felt spartan and without any real imagination.  I am hoping that in the second novel in this series, Wells will enlarge the world and give the readers something to sink their teeth into. 

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received through Netgalley