It was just another messed-up night in the Cauldron. Potion junkies huddled in shadowy corners with their ampoules and pipes and needles. The occasional flick of a lighter’s flame illuminated their dirty, desperate faces, and the air sizzled with the ozone scent of spent magic.
I considered stopping to harass them. Arrest them for loitering and possession of illegal arcane substances. But they’d just be back on the street in a couple of days or be replaced by other dirty, desperate faces looking to escape the Mundane world.
Published by Orbit in 2014
385 pages in paperback plus 5 bonus interview pages
Summary and extract from Orbit books
Dirty magic – it's dangerous, illegal and twice as addictive as cocaine.
The Wire with wizards – in a world where illegal magic is as dangerous and addictive as hard drugs, police detective Kate Prospero is cleaning up the streets.
The last thing patrol cop Kate Prospero expected to find on her nightly rounds was a werewolf covered in the blood of his latest victim. But then, she also didn't expect that shooting him would land her in the crosshairs of a Magic Enforcement Agency task force, who wants to know why she killed their lead snitch. The more Prospero learns about the dangerous new potion the MEA is investigating, the more she's convinced that earning a spot on their task force is the career break she's been wanting. But getting the assignment proves much easier than solving the case. Especially once the investigation reveals their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier—on the same day she swore she'd never use dirty magic again. Kate Prospero's about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should be never say never.
This fantasy is very definitely not for children: I would say 16+. It’s also not appropriate for anyone who dislikes swearing - I changed the fifth word in the extract for example. In fairness, the language is what you might expect in such a downtown city setting – if anything, it’s toned down.
The first in an urban fantasy series, this establishes our heroine Kate Prospero as an assertive, sometimes abrasive, crime-fighter – with some serious back story. Think of a high intensity, cynical fast-moving cop show – but with alchemy – and you’ve got the idea. Very American – in a good way.
There’s no shortage of action, revelations and plot shifts to keep the reader intrigued. Jaye Wells slips family drama into the bubbling pot, and if it were a film, it would definitely pass the Bechdel Test. There are plenty of strong female characters to enjoy.
For my own tastes the most successful element is the portrayal of the dirty magic itself – which happens fairly late on in the story. The use of alchemy in a parallel contemporary gangland culture is rather different and convincingly shown. Readers will be interested to see how the turf wars between the various covens develop in future books.
In short, this is an adult cop fantasy book which will suit readers who want a quickly paced plot, with some hints of romance, in a grimy city setting. They should also appreciate some gory moments, wise-cracking, courage and cynicism. A really good read if that’s to your taste.