Bonnie Torres, a young magic user fresh out of school and thoroughly unemployed finds a job with a newly formed company that uses magic to investigate crimes. No one’s ever done that before and naturally, some folks would prefer they not investigate crimes. Between the subjects of their first investigation and some folks who object on principle they’re up against a lot of opposition.
Hard Magic is the first book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations series, a spinoff from Gilman’s Retriever series. Collectively, the world is called the Cosa Nostradomus, after the loose community of magic users and magical creatures that live in it.
The Cosa Nostradomus setting is pretty much the modern world, only some people can do magic and there are magical creatures living among us more or less openly. There’s some hand waving about some special mojo that keeps most non-magical folks from seeing them, but it seems that while it’s not 100% out in the open it’s also not as hidden as it is in a lot of other books.
In the Cosa Nostradomus, there are two groups of wizards. The Council, who are all about hierarchy and following rules, and the Lonejacks, who are all loners. It reminds me a bit of the split between corporate programmers and freelancers.
We don’t see much of the non-human members of the Cosa. It’s actually a bit of character building for one the main characters that he’s never seen a fatae. There are a couple brief incidents, but they’re not really part of the story.
Bonnie Torres is our protagonist. She’s a 20-something who starts out the book floundering around, trying to get a job. Never mind what to do with her life, the first step is to get some income so she can stand on her own two feet. She’s got a bad case of hormones and scopes out pretty much everyone she comes across.
I like her because she very convincingly starts out with no clue what to do with her life and realizes she’s found it by the end of the book. That’s a nice character arc and I really believed it.
Point of view is first person. Gilman taunts the reader by having Bonnie realize things are being kept back from her and not revealing them until later. An occasional burst of third person let Gilman convey some extra information quickly.
Good use of viewpoint.
As you’d expect from a series named Paranormal Scene Investigations, this is a mystery plot. I wasn’t super impressed with the mystery. I don’t think there were enough suspects, so it ended up being pretty unsurprising at the end.
If the plot is a mystery, then the story is really about Bonnie finding her calling and the way the two founders built their team of paranormal investigators. This book was about characterization and world building, and I think it did a pretty good job of it. This focus on worldbuilding means that sometimes the book moves a little slowly, but it never turns into a slog.
I liked Hard Magic and will definitely be reading other books in the series. The plot was a little weak and the ending unsatisfying (even the characters were unsatisfied), but overall it was still a pretty good book. Don’t read it for the plot. Read it for the characters.
I look forward to seeing how things progress in the other books in the series. There’s even a kickstarter for a pair of Cosa Nostradomus spinoff stories going right now. I’m a backer.