So I was reading through the February Romantic Times last week, looking to spend a couple hundred of the library’s money—Lord, I love my job—when I noticed a five-and-a half-starred Top Pick! review for an urban fantasy called Pack of Lies. Turns out it’s the second book in Laura Anne Gilman’s Paranormal Scene Investigations series.
Forensic mages? I’m there. So I ran upstairs and grabbed the first book, Hard Magic.
It grabbed me back.
Bonnie Torres has confidence, brains, and magical talent to spare, plus a brand-new college diploma, but no job prospects—it’s difficult to find an interesting, well-paying employment in today’s world if one can’t get near electronic equipment without frying it dead. She doesn’t want to depend on her guardian’s generosity, but New York City is expensive.
So when a message on her machine tells her to show up for a mysterious job interview—and a subtle scry for details earns her a sharp magical scolding—Bonnie decides she has nothing to lose. When she arrives, she finds other candidates waiting—and waiting—but no one knows any more than she about the job or the potential employer who still hasn’t showed. They’re all magic users, but seem far too different in talents and experience to be competing for the same position.
Until they discover the dead body in the room next door . . . and learn that what they all have in common is insatiable curiosity—and the opportunity to join the brand-new Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations team. They’re going to repurpose old spells and invent new ones in order to solve magical crimes—if the Powers that Be allow them to proceed. And survive.
I have one question: Why haven’t I heard of Laura Anne Gilman before? Somehow, I missed her six previous books about magical retrieval specialists, set in the same world as Hard Magic. You’d think I’d notice if I was living under a rock that big. Because this is terrific stuff.
The magic system, based on electric-like “currents”—discovered by none other than Founder Ben Franklin, which leads credibility and tickles me no end—is a beautifully designed system that blends science with ley lines, psychic ability with crystal balls. The limits and rules are logical—there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world, which is too bad, considering how many calories a magic user needs to function.
All the old stories, about magicians and wizards and all the, with magic blazing and spells thundering? Bullshit. You try that, and I swear, thirty seconds later you’d be dead, because we’re just not that coordinated. It would be like a Null trying to walk and chew gum and pat themselves on the head while rubbing their belly and oh yeah, whistling Dixie at the same time. On key.
And the political setup of the magical community is just as good: The lonejack magic users (motto: don’t get involved) are ferociously independent while the Council is about as status- and power-bound as you’d think. Bonnie, who has one foot in each camp, is perfectly placed to explain the rules of both without intrusion. She also knows a lot about the fatae, inherently magical creatures who follow their own ways.
The characters were absolutely real to me, especially the PUPIs: detail-oriented Bonnie, overachiever Sharon, strong-minded Nifty, geeky Nick, and unobtrusive-yet-complex Pietr (my personal favorite). Every member is distinct and individual and it is so interesting to see them mesh into a team. It isn’t effortless—but that just raises the stakes.
It’s been a long time since I wanted to insert myself into a story, but I want to be one of these people—I want to work at this job on this team and know that people like this have my back and trust me to have theirs. What a rush.
I’d also like to work for the two leaders of PUPI: charismatic, Council-bred Ian and intense lonejack Venec. Both of them are infuriating, demanding, and brilliant. As a personal aside, Venec might trip Bonnie’s trigger, but I’ve always been a sucker for a redhead, especially a redhead who chooses principles over political power. I’m also curious about their dynamic: these two shouldn’t have such a strong working bond, but they do, and I’d love to know how and why that happened.
Maybe the next book will have some clues—I pre-ordered it by the time I reached the fourth chapter of this one.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll start on Ms. Gilman’s Retrievers series. I have a lot of catching up to do.