Magic is real, and it went public in the U.S. in the 1960s. Now, the government has to deal with how to handle “Lefties”, or Adepts, and their powers, and cops have to handle the trade in dirty, or unregulated, potions brewed by the various covens. Speaking of, there’s a new dirty potion that causes its addicts to have a taste for human flesh and blood. That is the world of this smart, funny, well-written, and thoughtful book – Dirty Magic. A book I would argue is a must-read for fans of crime dramas, urban fantasies, and strong female protagonists. N.B. This book was published in 2014, but I will still attempt to keep this review spoiler-free.
Caveat. I haven’t had much time to read for pleasure over the past decade. I’ve read a lot, but while I was working on my Ph.D., most of my non-comic book reading was research related. And while I did read a lot of awesome books and articles, they were dense, hefty stuff. So, this year, I made a pledge to get back to reading for pleasure, and this was the first book I picked up. I’ve been eyeing this book on the shelves at our local bookstore, finding myself drawn to its promise and premise. That said, I’ve started various urban fantasy series over the past fifteen years only to wind up disappointed. Many had average writing. Most turned out to be cheap human female-male monster smut. A few showed promise and then crashed and burned. I almost gave up on the genre, but something convinced me to give this book and its heroine Kate Prospero a chance. So, when I praise this book, understand that it’s something I rarely do with this genre.
Spoiler-free Summary. Kate Prospero, a beat cop with a very dark past in dirty magic, is placed on suspension after killing a murderer who happens to be (a) hopped up on a new dirty potion, Gray Wolf, and (b) an informant for a federal magic crimes task force. Gray Wolf is a nasty beast, basically inducing involuntary lycanthropy in its deadliest form. Eventually, Kate talks herself onto the team, which forces her to confront her past and how, being haunted by that past, impacts both her and her younger brother Danny, whom she raises.
What I Liked. As I said, this book is really smart. I can’t speak to the police procedures, knowing only what televised interpretations of those procedures depict. However, I will say that the tedious nature and, often, political disputes of those sections resonate with my experiences with bureaucracy in academia, so I don’t need to understand the full details of police culture to feel Kate’s frustrations with certain aspects of her job. That said, as someone who has long researched the occult for personal interest, Wells did her homework on occult theory and history – especially on alchemy. I also chuckled at the federal prison for occult offenders was named after Aleister Crowley, the “Wickedest Man in the World”. Our heroine, Kate Prospero, happens to share a name with the sorcerous protagonist of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Speaking of Kate, I find her one of the most relatable urban fantasy heroines I’ve encountered. She’s smart, compassionate, snarky, and haunted by her past failures in a way that drives her to create a better world. She doesn’t endless hours brooding over what she did. She thinks about it. She has it always in the back of her mind. However, she uses that as motivation to become who she believes the world needs to make it a better place. Given that the book is written from her perspective, we get to see these struggles and memories play out – sometimes at the least favorable time for such things to distract a police officer on an investigation. Kate seemed real to me in a way that most urban fantasy heroines don’t. I would describe her as what Anita Blake could have been.
And as real as Kate Prospero seemed, the story felt just as real and plausible. Cops and occultists threw out professional jargon without long paragraphs of exposition. Bureaucracy sections slowed the pace from fast action to a maddening crawl. Wells narrated the fight scenes with an eye to both the action needed to hold attention and the emotional weight of the moment that increased the fear and threat levels of those involved. And the ending was satisfying but not “happy”. Dirty Magic ended in a way that felt honest to the world presented on its pages.
What I didn’t Like. Like I said, even though the bureaucracy scenes can be read as serving a purpose, there were a few places in the middle of the text that those sequences dragged on, slowing the pace to a crawl. At the end of the day, their presence and length made sense; however, during the moment of reading them, I found my eyes glazing over a bit.
Final Thoughts. Without a doubt, I recommend Dirty Magic to fans of crime drama, to fans of urban fantasy, and to those looking for a narrative with a strong female protagonist. This book is smart, thoughtful, well-written, emotionally deep, and, overall, a blast to read.
Rating. 3.8 out of 4 bats.
I’m always up for suggestions of books to read, so tell me, what are some of your favorite books that you’ve read for pleasure?