A Murder of Mages straddles fantasy and police procedural (crime drama) genres. For readers like Jaclyn, who enjoy both mysteries and fantasies, this might be an excellent choice.
Set in the crime-ridden district Inemar of the city of Maradaine, this novel closely follows the work and personal lives of two criminal investigators: veteran and oddity Minox “Jinx,” and the woman who becomes Inspector Rainey, a.k.a. “Tricky.”
Satrine Rainey boldly walks into the stationhouse where Minox works, with a letter from the Commissioner giving her a position as Inspector Third Class. What no one knows is that the document was forged – because her husband, previously an Inspector, is chronically ill and cannot help support their family.
Minox is ridiculed at the stationhouse for being too intellectual and almost never satisfied with the resolution of any case the stationhouse takes. Like Sherlock Holmes, he has incredible powers of observation, and can read secrets in body language and tone of voice. He is also an untrained mage, which makes this case extraordinarily difficult for him. His coworkers call him Jinx because his partners keep dying, and when he’s assigned to be Inspector Rainey’s partner, everyone assumes she’ll be next.
Minox and Satrine learn that they work really well together – Minox is pleasantly surprised and respectful of the investigative mind and thorough approach of his new partner, and Rainey respects Minox’s odd talents. The way they get to know one another, their mutual respect and complementary abilities, their equal footing, make them an intriguing pair of partners. Their first case is a doozy – a ritualistic murder of a mage. The murder investigation soon becomes a serial murder investigation, with the partners dodging old nemeses, confronting hostile mage houses, and following scant evidence in the hopes of discovering a pattern.
The complexity of the city’s neighborhoods and history creates a fascinating backdrop for the story. The city is revealed as the investigators take their investigations to different citizens and different neighborhoods. As thoroughly described as the city is, it did not have the inconsistency of info-dumping interspersed with action.
Minox and Satrine are fully realized characters with individual backgrounds: families, personal histories, and problems that are revealed to the reader as they begin to get to know each other and as they go home (almost) every night. Their narrative voices are individual as well, which brings them into focus as characters. Minox struggles with his obsessive tendencies, and Satrine struggles with her difficult family situation. Getting to know what made these officers tick, following along in their personal troubles that differ so greatly from the murder mystery plot, and the world-building make up for the slow, cerebral investigation plot. Even the secondary characters (Satrine’s landlady and rebellious teenage daughter, Minox’s foul-mouthed sister, the stationhouse Captain, and a young uncircled mage) have different dimensions that bring them to life.
My only complaint is that the plot is so dependent on the inspectors’ intellectual findings and revealing the context of characters, city, and investigation, that it takes quite awhile for the pace to pick up. In fact, it wasn’t until the last hundred pages or so that the action became gripping and exciting.
While it lacked excitement for most of the book (and your mileage may vary, as they say), I did enjoy walking (and running) through the streets of Maradaine with these two inspectors as they try to solve the case. Recommended for fans of magical crime dramas.
*Advance reading copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Irenicon has a similar bold, vivid setting that is urban but not modern.
Dirty Magic is darker, but shares the mystery, cop drama, and magical elements with A Murder of Mages.
Blood Price is also darker – it has vampires, instead of magic – but the main character is a retired cop who gets dragged into an investigation by a vampire.