April 22, 2010 Books, Reading, Reviews 2 ★★★

Staying Dead (Retrievers #1) by Laura Anne Gilman

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Description: It starts as a simple job — but simple jobs, when you’re dealing with the magical world, often end up anything but. As a Retriever, Wren Valere specializes in finding things gone missing — and then bringing them back, no questions asked. Normally her job is stimulating, challenging and only a little bit dangerous. Case in point: A cornerstone containing a spell is stolen and there’s a magical complication. (Isn’t there always?) Wren’s unique abilities aren’t enough to lay this particular case to rest, so she turns to some friends: a demon (minor), a mage who has lost his mind, and a few others, including Sergei, her business partner (and maybe a bit more?). Sometimes what a woman has to do to get the job done is enough to give even Wren nightmares . . . from

Stacy’s Review:

This one I have been fondling in the bookstore for several months, and finally bought the first volume of the series. It was a slow starter for me, but it was an interesting enough concept that I kept reading. I’m not actually sure (it may have been around chapter eight) when I stopped feeling like I was slogging through it (and if the next chapter wasn’t awesome I was going to abandon it) and it started to get interesting.

I say the concept is interesting, but it’s far from new. Rather, it was the characterization that kept my interest, as opposed to the plot; which was admittedly confusing at the best of times – especially when the action all fell together at the end. Our main protagonists are a current user (what we might call “magic” but is directly related to the ability to harness electric current) slash ex-thief named Wren and an art gallery owner slash erm, opportunist, named Sergei. Sergei gets jobs for Wren, which are more honest than her previous history hints at, but still involve theft. Instead, she generally seems to steal things back. In a complicated backstory, the history of Sergei and Wren is revealed, and while ordinarily one might expect Wren to distrust Sergei, their shared history is clearly more important to both of them than their separate previous histories, so they still have each other’s backs, even as they get involved in something much scarier – with more rules and secrets than Wren knew existed. One becomes more and more involved in Wren and Sergei’s lives, and the dual POVs assist in understanding how each character relates to each incident and how they understand each other. They’re typical in a lot of ways – he is her boss and takes care of her, and she looks up to him – they respect each other. And yet, atypical in others – Sergei comes off as someone who brings work home with him, but not the sort to consort with someone below his station. Wren comments several times, dryly, on his affection for tall model-types that he can show off at gallery openings or use make new connections. Yet he worries about her. He worries, he keeps track, and he knows her. Getting his POV further into the book helps the reader understand both sides of their sometimes off-beat situation, and I think helps us think of him fondly when the shit hits the fan.

The world that Gilman builds is also important – those who do magic are held together by a secret bond to not reveal themselves, even though their general existance is known. Naturally there is a controlling body that tries to keep track of all of them, and some are willfully “off the grid”, called “lonejacks” and they do not obey the rules. Even worse are “wizzarts”, those who have let the current overtake their control and “wizzed out” – they are extremely powerful and extremely unpredictable with touch-and-go morality when it comes to others. The black market in magical objects, the ordinary man’s desire for power, and secret societies are all par for the course, but Gilman makes them work together in a way that was definitely enjoyable to read once I got into it. Looking forward to the further adventures of Wren & Sergei. They are continued in the series, titled “Retrievers”, of which Staying Dead is the first book.