While our political leaders compete for a Darwin Award in Westminster tonight, my wife and I decided to distract ourselves with mental candy floss. Molly Harper can be depended on for straight forward humour, even more straight forward sex and a dash of the supernatural.
"Minimum Wage Magic" is a light-hearted quest-based book set in the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ), an almost lawless, so-magic-it's-alive city built over the ruins of old Detroit. The anything-goes magic-rich DFZ is populated by mages, cybernetically enhanced humans, personal AIs designed to provide emotional support, a few seriously dangerous Gods and more dragons than any other city in the world.
We discover the DFZ by following Opal Yong-ae's increasingly desperate struggles to make her next debt payment. Opal used to make good money as a Cleaner, using her skills as a mage and her degree in art history to turn a profit from buying foreclosed apartments from the City and clearing out the magical, and sometimes lethal, the previous occupants left behind.
Recently, Opal's luck has not been good. She doesn't have the money she needs to pay her debt and her latest buy turns out to contain nothing but the body of a recently deceased and very secretive mage. To pay her debt she has to uncover the mage's secret and avoid getting killed by the various people who want that secret kept.
What follows is a fun, deadline-driven quest to unravel the mystery and turn a profit. Along the way, Opal makes an uneasy alliance with a moody rival. The usual unresolved sexual tension clichés are largely avoided in favour of a humorous odd-couple dynamic where the honest but secretive Opal has to work with her grouchy, semi-luddite. entirely non-magical but more than a little criminal, partner who constantly declares that he is only in it for the money.
As Opal falls deeper into danger, we learn the secrets of her past as well as the plans of the dead mage. The plot keeps up a brisk pace with lots of action, great world-building and some interesting and credible characters.
This is a feel-good book with an engaging heroine, an interesting puzzle and a whole new world to explore.
Although it's set in the same world as the Heartstriker series, which started with "Nice Dragons Finish Last" you can start with this book and not be left feeling you've missed something.
I preferred "Minimum Wage Magic" over "Nice Dragons Come Last" because Opal gave the story a more human and vulnerable perspective and I think the ideas are little more grounded in the realities of the DFZ.
I strongly recommend the audiobook version of "Minimum Wage Magic" which is flawlessly performed by Emily Woo Zeller. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of her work.