I realized it was time for another library run (despite probably still having books on my shelf at home I need to read) and picked up this little gem by chance. Hard Magic by Laura Anne Gilman is exactly what I was looking for in terms of an urban fantasy novel involving a female protagonist and was everything that Night Shift lacked. This was the first book in a relatively new series called “Paranormal Scene Investigations.” As it says on the tin, this series is about a small, new group of magic users (called Talent) who use their magic (Current) to solve crime scenes created by other Talent users. Set in NYC, our main character is Bonnie Torres, a young Talent with a knack for detail and trying to find her place in the world after living between Council and Lonejacks her entire life (Council and Lonejacks being two factions of the Talent community).
First, I’d like to say that Bonnie was a refreshing character to have after Jill. She felt like a real person as opposed to just a stereotype of a “badass action chick.” Jill runs around in ridiculous leather pants, trench coat, and all black and had a very limited personality. Bonnie, on the other hand, had actual issues both female related and just plain human problems. She dressed NORMAL and was actually struggling to get a job at the beginning of the novel. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a “badass action chick”, but if that is all I can say about you at the end of the day then you MIGHT be a bit flat. And, while it is true that Bonnie isn’t COMPLETELY fleshed out in this first novel, we do learn a lot about her and the key points of her personality and history. I like having a more belieable female protagonist though. She’s strong, independent, funny, and smart but she has her flaws as well since she’s stubborn, disregards authority, and can sometimes let her feelings cloud her judgement. True, Bonnie does flirt and day dream about some of her co-workers, but the romance is barely present in this story and is more of a passing “man he’s hot” as opposed to “I want to jump his bones right this minute.” It’s honestly refreshing and, again, completely believable. Not to mention Bonnie is a bit of a pansexual anyway.
Plus, Hard Magic may be told from Bonnie’s POV, but several of the other characters are major players in this book (which is probably why it’s not called “The Case Files of Bonnie Torres” or something). Gilman does a great job of building an ensemble cast which is a little different from most urban fantasies I’ve read recently where there is the main protagonist who usually plays lone wolf (but ends up getting a few side character support along the way). I loved each and every character in this series from Nick to Pietr to Sharon, Nifty, and “The Guys.” And, again, while these characters are still part mystery, I do feel like I got to know some good things about them and have a desire to learn more.
While all of the characters are great and very realistic, I will say that the overall story left something to be desired. It’s a little slow at points since not only are we establishing the universe and the laws of magic in this world, but the characters themselves are setting up something entirely new: the Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations (PUPI). A good first half of the book is the characters learning to work together and figuring out just what they can do with Current and crime investigation. This is NOT a story that begins in medias res, the organization is brand new and we the readers get to experience its creation along with the characters which is kind of fun. Still, a real case doesn’t crop up until several chapters into the book and the case itself is never completely solved. I believe it might be in the next installation or, at the very least, the same killer will strike again. However, that’s not to say that ALL the loose ends are left as loose ends. Plus, it does make it a bit more realistic that a case isn’t completely solved since sometimes that happens in the real world.
I also have to say that I enjoyed the mythos set up in this series. It reminds me a lot of the magic system in The Dresden Files in that Current is a source both inside a person and can be pulled from outside as well. Not only that but Current users have to be careful that they don’t short out electronics when they’re doing their stuff. Another aspect is, of course, the Council who don’t seem like they always have the individuals’ best interest at heart. Of course, I might have also been drawing TDF comparisons because the characters kept traveling between NYC and Chicago.
Overall, I’d say if you’re looking for a good urban fantasy series with a decent female protagonist who ISN’T trying to screw a vampire/werewolf/demon, then this might be more your cup of tea.
I give this a 4 *sunglasses* out of 5 CSI parodies.