Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk – Review

Book Jacket:

“Using magic meant it used you back. Forget the fairy tale hocus-pocus, wave a wand and bling-o sparkles and pixie dust crap. Magic, like booze, sex, and drugs, gave as good as it got.”

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 an innocent. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell’s caster–and Allison Beckstrom’s the best there is.

Daughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune–and the many strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magical offload that has her father’s signature all over it, Allie is thrown back into the high-stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic.

Now, Allie’s out for the truth–and the forces she finds herself calling on will overturn 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.

You can read an excerpt here.

Review:

Magic in the Bone is a solid Urban Fantasy novel, with a fascinating world and likable lead – but I just couldn’t fall in love with it. Still the story held my interest, and going forward I think this series has a ridiculous amount of potential.

The world building in Magic to the Bone is fantastic, a fun dark look at the cost of over exploiting resources with a magic twist. Monk has built a noir-like city landscape to play in, where the corruption and abuse are based on a different currency – magic. And the price you pay for that power is terrifying; the way magic eats Allie’s memory is everyone’s worst nightmare – like Alzheimer’s or Dementia – and it really brings home the consequences in visceral way.

Allie knows everything is going to go wrong because that’s just how her life works, and her dry inner commentary is a lot of fun – again, very noir. Allie is a tough chick who slogs her way through and she’s easy to root for, but I felt a bit of of a disconnect with her at times, especially with her decisions and relationships.

The core of that disconnect – and the greatest source of my dissatisfaction with this book –  is Zayvion Jones, the love interest. In the beginning I just did not get Allie and Zay as a couple. With Zay, I realize Monk was going for a tall, dark and mysterious vibe, but he was too much of a blank slate for me – I never felt like I got to know or understand him; I never saw any real personality traits aside from calm control. Yes, the boy is good looking, but that’s not enough to explain why Allie suddenly goes all in with a virtual stranger. Frankly, for the first 150 pages of this book their relationship drove me crazy. Zay is high-handed and lies to Allie, and Allie is a girl who doesn’t trust anything or anyone, but suddenly she just kind of throws herself at him – a guy who she’s never talked to before that day, a guy who had been stalking her for three weeks, and who she later finds out is working for her father (who she hates and mistrusts). I just didn’t believe she could instantaneously get over all of that; it seemed like a reckless impulse and maybe a hook-up, but not an actual falling in love moment. The trust wasn’t earned. And then suddenly 50 pages later Allie is telling Zay she thinks they’ve got something and that they could work it out and I had no idea what relationship she was talking about, because I just didn’t see it.

I wish there had been a moment, something to make me understand why Allie is willing to risk so much on Zay, a foundation for their relationship based on more than his nice eyes or her yearning to be touched by him. There was one quick, throwaway line, where Allie says the reason she likes him is because he defied Mama to help a young kid, and for a second I could almost see it. I wish that moment had been given more play, but instead it passed by so quickly that it didn’t seem that important to Allie – instead of being pivotal, it felt more like she was trying to justify a bad decision to herself. There’s a lot of noise in her head about why she should have misgivings about Zay, and she just chooses to ignore it all for reasons I don’t understand. Still, Monk leaves no doubt as to the hormones flying between the two of them, and I started to be a little more forgiving of the relationship later on, as there was some cute flirting and plenty of heat, but the getting together stage just didn’t work for me.

There is so much about this story to like – I love the magic, the world, the politics – but I think the character work is missing something, like it all makes sense in Monk’s head but it’s just not clear on the page. I get a sense of the intent, but it’s not fully realized. Plot-wise, I really liked the battle over magic technology and Allie learning about the power players and suddenly finding herself one of them. The action is great, with fun magic showdowns, and the reveal of the bad guy works well. There’s a lot of texture to the machinations behind what’s going on, and the set-up for the coming war is excellent. I just really, really wish the relationship had been backseat to all of this, instead of taking up so much of the story.

There were also a couple of things that nagged at me – like the fact that the one guy Allie needs to solve the mystery just happens to be lying alongside the river, unconscious, at the very moment she decided to dodge down that deserted way, or the way sometimes it feels like the whole story is just Allie returning blindly to one location and somehow it magically serves up whatever she needs each time. I wish Monk had spend more time exploring Allie’s new magic, and I really hope there’s more to come as the series progresses, because how she’s different and what she can do is really interesting. I also think there was a bit too much time spent with Allie on the verge of passing out – it got a bit repetitive.

Still, at the end of the day this book delivers an intriguing premise for an Urban Fantasy series, and a solid beginning. I am really hoping this series grows on me, because there’s a lot of exciting potential here.

Byrt Grade: B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Dear Author says:

The world building is the best part of the story. Each aspect seems to be carefully thought out such as how individuals are seeking new ways to expend magic without suffering the repercussions. Much of the story was well plotted, with details or clues given out early on in the story that were picked up at the end. The biggest problem I had was with characterization. Allie is a very standard UF character without much nuance. The romance seemed forced.

Sci Fi Guy says:

Overall I found Magic to the Bone to be an impressive debut. This first book introduced enough interesting concepts and potential story arcs to propel the series for some time to come. I expect big things from the next installment

Book Addicts says:

Monk creates an exciting world where magic is just another vice. There is mystery, action and some exciting romantic scenes in this fast-paced urban fantasy. Though the beginning of the book can be a little slow due to world building and the explanation of magic, once things are set in motion it’s one twist after another as Allie races to discover the truth before she lands in jail, or worse, dead.

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