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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website  
Pre-order “Minimum Wage MagicHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Last Dragon Standing"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also posts regularly on her blog about publishing, books and several other intriguing things.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab.

That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.

FORMAT/INFO: Minimum Wage Magic is 286 pages long divided over fourteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person via Opal Yong-ae solely. This is the first volume of the DFZ series.

November 9, 2018 will mark the e-book & paperback publication of Minimum Wage Magic and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art is by Tia Rambaran.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Rachel Aaron is a special talent and it has been highly evident with all of the sixteen books she has written so far. With this book, she does something unique as she writes a sequel series for the very first time since she started writing professionally nearly a decade ago. While also making this new series more grounded within its genre and less of the eclectic genre mixes that she’s known to write.

The story opens up with Opal Yong-ae, a sub-contractor for the DFZ’s Habitation Management. The DFZ being the Detroit Free Zone which was created by Algonquin the spirit of the great lakes. She was brought back to life by the sudden reappearance of magic after a millennium in 2035. She razed the city of Detroit and in its place stand the DFZ, a city state that was ruled by Algonquin for the next sixty years. Things however have changed thanks to the events seen/read in the Heartstrikers books and now DFZ is its own beast wherein Peacekeeper aka the Dragon of Detroit also resides (readers of the Heartstrikers saga will know who this is). Set twenty years after the events of Last Dragon Standing, the readers are introduced a completely new DFZ wherein things are wilder and crazier than before.

Opal is one of its nine million residents, a cleaner who basically buys up delinquent properties in a city wide auction and then proceeds to sell of the possessions to make a profit. This being the DFZ, things are zanier than usual and one never knows what one might unearth. Opal’s most recent acquisition has a dead body of a mage rotting in the sub-subbasement that she bought in an auction. Unable to find anything of value and needing to pay ten thousand dollars as part of her debt (within a week’s time). Things look very dire for Opal but there might be a way and it might involve getting her hands dirtier than usual. However faced with resolving her debt or losing an important part of her life, Opal will try do the impossible, but soon she finds out how much of a big quagmire she has landed in.

This is a super fun entry in to the city of the DFZ and marks a return to the world of the Heartstrikers. While this is also the first time that Rachel Aaron has written a sequel.  This book is a complete standalone story that doesn't require any background knowledge of the events showcased within the Heartstrikers Saga. The author purposefully set out to craft a tale that would explore the craziness of the DFZ and she does this very strikingly.

Featuring a mystery of a murdered mage, and the main mystery of to whom Opal owes a debt? Minimum Wage Magic is a solid urban fantasy thriller that excited me and kept me turning the pages. The plot pace was smooth all the way as we along with Opal slowly get to know who the murdered mage was and what he was up to. I consider Rachel Aaron to be one of best storytellers alive and she doesn't disappoint with this low key (as compared to her previous works) thriller plot that is all about living in a hyper-capitalistic city wherein anything and everything is allowed. This book came with a very high set of personal expectations as it was set in the same world as the Heartstrikers and being one of Rachel Aaron's creations. Though the author wonderfully cuts these expectations by making this book a very different read than any of the Heartstriker titles and also more of a traditional urban fantasy read. The plot focus is very tightly kept on Opal and her misfortunes. Unlike all her previous books wherein the plot usually explodes to an end of the world scenario. This one stays on a personal level through out and the stakes while being raised aren't the world-shaking kind.

This book also explores the DFZ and I mean really explores it. We get to see its subterranean grottoes, the newer formed religions and cultures it cultivates and also how traffic is bungled when several buildings and locations get moved magically. Plus dragons who now are welcome in the DFZ can cause several log jams and many more zany things. Previously the author had mentioned how she always wanted to give the readers a more on the ground look into the city and we get it in spades in this opening volume. Opal as a protagonist is an interesting person, in the start while we don’t know much about her except that she’s of Korean descent and in a huge debt. I really didn’t understand her motivations and was annoyed by her pertinacity as it seemed that she's just making things harder for herself unnecessarily. It’s only when the main reveal goes down, that’s when you realize her line of thinking and I for one, really enjoyed her character arc. Unlike Marci Novalli, who has a similar strange background, Opal’s persona is much different than Marci’s and maybe unconsciously I was comparing them both. Opal even while being reckless and foolishly stubborn, has reasons and once they are made clear. The readers will truly root for her as she strives to overcome Herculean odds.

The best side character was Opal's AI Sibyl as she/it frequently tries to provide help, comfort & even scold Opal for her silly mistakes. There are two other characters (Peter and Nik) who are introduced within the plot and are equally intriguing. I would love if the author further explores their background in the future sequels. Peter is a priest for the Empty Wind and Nik, who is also a mercenary/cleaner and a Luddite to boot. Their interactions with Opal add to the comedic tones and also introduce some interesting romantic set up. There are a few other characters introduced but we don’t get much about them. Now onto the big question, are there any cameos or appearances from the characters we love and have read about before? I’m not saying anything but you will be surprised when they are referenced or make their appearances. This book is quite on the smaller side and comes with a solid dose of comedy as is the precedent with Rachel Aaron's writing. This book was a much different read than what I was expecting but it was one that I enjoyed reading. I hope the author explores more of the DFZ geography and showcases its unique nature.

Things that didn't work for me were just a couple of things, primarily the protagonist is slightly unlikeable and does redeem herself by the end but many readers might find her a bit jarring from all the protagonists come before. Secondly this story structure and plot focus is very narrow and sometimes I wanted it to expand beyond its tight structure. Lastly I miss the characters who we have read in the Heartstrikers saga and here I was left bereft of their presence while only hearing or catching glimpses of them.

CONCLUSION: Minimum Wage Magic is a lively start to a brand new series in a world that’s very familiar to her fans. The story, the plot and setting are refreshing so that newer readers will find things get excited about Rachel Aaron and older readers will jump along for the ride because they know how awesome her books are. A  catchy title, a plucky protagonist and a maximum effort by the author, honestly readers can't ask for more in the urban fantasy  genre.

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