Review: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

January 9, 2014 Books, Reading, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

I like urban fantasy, and I like police procedural shows, so it stands to reason that I’d enjoy a police procedural with fantasy elements.  And I really do enjoy urban fantasy cop novels, or at least ones that are as entertaining as Dirty Magic is.  I’ve seen books by Jaye Wells at the bookstore but for some reason I hadn’t picked anything of hers up before Dirty Magic.  I think I’m going to have to start going through her back catalog now because I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

Have you ever noticed that it’s kind of hard to write a review when you really loved the book?  If this turns into a laundry list of me gushing about things, I apologize in advance. ;)

First, I love the setting.  The story takes place in Babylon, an invented city in the Rust Belt, one that’s both decaying and gentrifying, and our protagonist, Kate Prospero, finds that she has to tread the line between the old, familiar decay and the new, big-money developer who is also a rather unpleasant blast from her past.  The city itself is practically its own character, and I loved digging deeper into the Cauldron, the older part of the city that’s a battleground between the potion gangs.  Kate’s patrols into the Cauldron and her investigations into the dangerous new potion that’s shown up on the streets lead the reader into some really fascinating places, and I can’t wait to read more about Babylon.

I love the idea of a society both crumbling and advancing based on magic, and using potions as opposed to spellcraft or something else is a nice change from the other urban fantasy I’ve been reading.  The idea of potion addiction is also fascinating, and I like that there are consequences to using magic in this world.  The divide between “clean” magic (i.e. potions developed and marketed by corporations) and “dirty” magic (potions made by gangs and sold on the streets) is very blurry, and I’m hoping for more about this in the future.  The mystery within the book is solidly written, and I like the complexity that builds throughout the book.  It isn’t a cut-and-dry sort of story, and this book sets up further books in the series very well.

Kate Prospero’s internal narration reads like a toned down version of a gumshoe in a noir detective novel.  I loved it.  She’s a great character, a woman who’s struggling to make ends meet while taking care of her teenage brother.  She’s motivated to move up the ladder in the police world partly by her desire to make a better life for herself and her brother and also because she grew up cooking dirty potions.  A tragic accident made her swear off all magic, and her new job with a special investigative unit tests her resolve.  I like that internal conflict; it makes Kate a more complicated character, and complicated is very good.

Great supporting characters, and none of them (with maybe the exception of the hard-nosed, power-hungry police chief) read like stock characters.  (I have to admit, I read the chief like J Jonah Jameson from the Raimi Spider Man movies)  I particularly like Little Man and Mary; LM is creepy as hell, but then turns around and is incredibly caring toward his sister/caretaker.

Here’s hoping this was coherent and not just a bunch of squee!  I really enjoyed Dirty Magic, and I’m definitely on board for the rest of the upcoming series (as well as some of Ms Wells’s older books, too).