After I gave positive reviews to two urban fantasies with hot female lead characters, a friend of mine recommended Devon Monk to me. I said that I would get around to it if I could, but my "to read" list was overflowing. So what shows up on the next list of books for review? Devon Monk's latest, Magic in the Shadows. I quickly snatched it up and dove in. Upon finishing, I must say that Monk has quite the imagination, and her Allie Beckstrom series appears to be quite good. However, I would definitely recommend starting at the beginning of the series, even more so than usual.
Allie is a Hound - someone who traces the use of magic and tracks down those who abuse their magical powers. Her own use of magic has marked her in distinctive ways; she has magical tattoos all over her arms and body, and recent events have caused her to lose her memory, including those of the man she loves - the man who is intimately involved with the Authority, that group of magic users who control most of the magic use in the world, and the man who may be her ticket into joining the Authority. It doesn't help that Allie’s dead father, Daniel Beckstrom, inhabits her mind, trying to convince her to use her power even more. A vicious creature is trying to kill her as well. Allie's had better days.
While Monk references a lot of events from past books so that new readers know what she’s talking about, the events of Magic in the Shadows are so tied to the past that I nonetheless felt lost at times trying to keep up. She well describes what happened, but the uninitiated reader doesn't have that much emotional investment in them. Admittedly, that can be hard to accomplish in a series that ties this closely together, in which each installment seems (gauging by this book) more like a chapter in an overall story without risking expository overkill.
Monk's characters are quite interesting. Stubborn Allie is determined to make her own way in this world of magic even though she's a little out of her depth. She has more power than she realizes and does things in an unorthodox manner, which drives her boyfriend, Zayvion, crazy. Zayvion is keeping secrets from Allie, too. While not quite as interesting, Zayvion does make a good foil, trying to rein in Allie's excesses and keep her safe.
Shame, another mage who takes Allie under his wing, has a brilliantly cynical outlook on life. His wisecracks and bluntness are quite refreshing (though Zayvion doesn't think so).
The intrigue with the Authority and the warring factions within play out entertainingly, though some of the twists are telegraphed a mile away. When Allie is supposed to be tested in a magical duel, I knew immediately who her opponent would be, though I didn't guess how she would ultimately prevail. I loved how Allie's father reacts to all of this intrigue as well, especially since he was so heavily involved with it when he was alive. It’s interesting watching Allie twist and turn, sometimes not knowing who to trust or having vague impressions of her lost memory come back to her to warn her off of something, even if she has no idea what the flashback means.
What brings Magic in the Shadows down is that it feels more like a transitional novel than anything else. A lot of stuff happens, but none of it is really tied up, with a few exceptions. It's a linking novel between the previous book and the next one rather than a full novel in itself. We have Allie and her father's wife (who is pregnant, by the way) discussing who is going to run her father's company. There's Allie's joining (or not joining) the Authority. Allie has also become head of the group of Hounds in Portland now that her former master is dead, so she has to figure out how she's going to handle them (and whether it will include major medical and dental). It's all interesting and enjoyable, but it doesn't feel complete.
I'm sure I'd feel differently if I had followed these characters from day one, but I haven't. I'm glad that Monk made Magic in the Shadows understandable for those who came in late, but there shouldn't be such a divide between new readers and familiar readers. Overall, however, I recommend this book. Just don't start with it.