Friday, December 16, 2011

Magic on the Line by Devon Monk

Allie Beckstrom is a magic user who works for a shadowy agency called "The Authority". "The Authority" works behind the scenes to keep strong magic users in line and to protect magic itself. Recently, the Authority in Portland underwent a great shock when several members of the magic council were attacked, and their bodies were subject to attempted takeover by those who were already dead. Allie was also attacked, and though her father's spirit merged with her, he didn't take her over. But she was unable to get rid of him, so he still shares her head.

In the wake of the attack, an Authority named Bartholemew Wray comes to Portland in an attempt to "fix" the problems there. He interrogates Allie with the help of his pet Truthfinder, who subjects her to a truth spell that hurts her badly, even burns her. But even as she is glad to have survived the Inquisition, she is convinced that Wray is up to something. But she just isn't sure what.

Even so, she has a funeral to attend, and a wake for one of her friends who died in the recent attack. She is less pleased to know that the local hounds have decided to become her bodyguard, to protect her- she thinks she can protect herself, being a hound as well. At the party, another man, Anthony, a hound who used to work for her, arrives late. He is disliked by the other hounds because he cut and run at a crucial time, but Allie has determined that he should get another chance, no matter her personal feelings on the subject.

But the party is cut short when this hound gets into a fight with another hound named Davy gets into a fight with Anthony over a woman he loves, and during the fight, Anthony bites Davy, then runs off. Allie and the hounds, including Davy, follow, and they eventually track Anthony to an alley downtown, where he is cornered, but seems to pass out. During the fight, Allie discovers that using magic now hurts her, and that her sense of sight where magic is concerned is now on all the time. She can also smell magic, and it smells foul to her- dead and rotting.

When Anthony collapses, Davy goes to attack him some more, and when Allie attempts to stop him, he tries to bite her. With her new sight, she sees weird black magic lines in his aura, and from Anthony, she sees a Veiled- the ghost of a mage, come out of Anthony, along with a green mist. When he can't bite Allie, Davy collapses, and she sees that Anthony is riddled with the same black lines like Davy, only much, much worse.

Unfortunately, Anthony is dead, and Allie is afraid that Davy will follow unless she does something about it. She consults with her father and calls upon a former colleague of his, a man named Collins, who has a brilliant medical mind that can do almost miracles with medical magic. But he's also something of a psychopath who experiments on his patients- his experimentation on friends and colleagues got him Closed, or mind-wiped of magic and memories, by the Authority. Unfortunately, his genius can't be denied, and he can still do magic- it's just much harder for him now.

As Allie tries to save Davy, Bartholemew Wray decides to restructure the Authority Council in Portland, blaming them for the magical catastrophe. He has several of the Council Closed, and names replacements, including Allie's sister as the Councillor for Flux Magic- which is magic mixed with Technology. Allie is unhappy that her sister is working with Wray, but Violet feels she can do the job and remain just fine, and Allie hopes she is right.

Meanwhile, there is a sickness going around the city, of a strange sort of pneumonia which is leaving its victims in comas. But when Allie sees a Veiled coming out of a woman with the same sort of green effect as the one she saw around Anthony, she wonders what is going on, as she sees the woman coughing and coughing as the Veiled leaves her. She attempts to freeze the Veiled with a spell, but the sickness from her magic makes her pass out and hit her head, and the Veiled gets away.

What is going on with the Veiled and magic? Anthony's death came about because he was poisoned by magic- but can Allie and her allies track down what is going on and convince Wray that there is something going on that he should listen to and take care of before it causes trouble for Portland and the Authority itself? Or will it be up to Allie to find out and stop the problems with magic as shadowy forces in the background conspire against her? Does she have any chance to succeed when the deck is so stacked against her?

I didn't know going into this that this is book seven of a nine book series. Allie has risen from someone despised by her father and ignorant of who and what controlled the world she lived in to someone who moves and plays with the power players- but she is still not trusted by most of the authority. The hounds she has worked with and who worked for her love her and want to protect her, and her soul complement, Zayvion, has formed a loverly relationship with her, but even those relationships are complicated- Zayvion was in love with Chase, the woman whose funeral they attend in the first part of the novel, and at her funeral says he will never stop loving her, which hurts Allie deeply, but not enough to stop her loving Zay.

Part of the problem for me in reading this book was how tightly the books in the series seem to be linked. A lot of the first part of the book is about the characters dealing with the fallout from the last book, and the ending has only limited closure, leaving the rest up in the air. At the end of the book, characters drive off to deal with more stuff, and the ending as it is seems a little abrupt and more like a "to be continued", Not necessarily bad, but it makes the series hard to pick up if you haven't read the first six novels.

And even though there isn't a lot of explanation of the kinds of magic, or what "Veiled" are (I had to wait a bit to understand what a Veiled was beyond some sort of ghost), most of the book is clear and understandable without extended explanation. The characters are complex and fairly well drawn, but I would have liked a bit more explanation of the complex stuff like Soul Complements (Apparently, it's like a piece of your soul that fits exactly with another person's. Not all Soul Complements are lovers like Allie and Zayvion, but they do share a close mental and emotional connection.)

I liked this book, but it was a bit hard to get into and I felt that the ending was left too open ended to feel much like a coherent story on its own. It's less like a sequel and more like one huge book that has been chopped into pieces willy-nilly for better marketing. Although that's not a bad thing on its own, it makes it much more difficult to pick the series up from a book that isn't the first book. Recommended, but read the other books first. I assume that makes the story much better and more complete than the one I dropped into reading.

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