Advance copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Christopher Buckley is a young man trying to keep his family together and protect his younger sister in the face of bankruptcy, tragedy, and unemployment. He grew up privileged – but all that has changed. His money is running out, and he can no longer support himself and his orphaned sister. Their parents died in a tragic and highly publicized accident, and he has been struggling to survive since.
As a categorized wordweaver – one who can write words as quickly as they are said, or even thought – he is qualified for secretarial positions only. In Tarland, where he lives, categorization is an implied sinister process whereby people are labeled according to their magical abilities, forcing them into certain careers and stations in life. Labels equal rankings as well, so if a person does not have much magical ability, they are relegated to the meanest, lowliest jobs and positions in society. Since he does not have the luxury of being choosy, he ends up interviewing for an assistant’s position with the local deathsniffer – a categorized truthsniffer who investigates murders.
Olivia Faraday, the deathsniffer, is eccentric and moody, and very difficult to work for. Mr. Buckley, as he insists he be called, has a difficult time working with her eccentricities. Buckley is committed to courtesy, tact, and manners, even if they are empty. Throughout his experiences as the deathsniffer’s newest assistant, he fights his instincts for order and social graces in order to perform his job and get along with others. One of the strengths of this novel is the characterization of these two main characters. They are quirky and dynamic, and their growing working relationship kept things interesting.
Another strength: the thoroughly integrated political context. There are two factions in Tarland, the traditionalists and the reformists. Both parties’ platforms have their foundations in technological development. Tarland’s technology is built on elemental beings that have been roped into slavery to power humans’ technologies. Salamanders and alps provide light, undines provide the energy for water, and cloudlings are used as electrical power sources. The traditionalists believe in the system of categorization and enslavement of elemental beings, and the reformists – as you might guess – want to change things. Politics surrounds just about everything that happens in this book.
What bothered me most about this book is the abuse of mystery and suspense. The murder that Chris gets dragged into investigating with Olivia is obviously the main mystery. But there are other small mysteries that are introduced, and reintroduced, and NEVER EXPLAINED. Things that could have had answers … just … don’t. Chris apparently has a history with one of the police officers, which the officer hints at several times. Very late in the investigation, a List is introduced. This List is implicated in the murders. At the end, the List is revealed … but nothing is revealed about what it means. I like mysteries, but I enjoy them most when I can follow along and pick up hints and put them together like puzzle pieces. I find it extremely frustrating to be given the same puzzle pieces over and over again, and to be unable to make anything out of the picture. And so I found this book frustrating. I have absolutely no idea about why the officer knows Chris, or what the List means, and why that one incident that deals with the list is just dropped into the story tragically and suddenly. And those are just two examples.
In sum, it was an interesting book, slow to get into but picking up in speed about the halfway point. The characters were unusual, but the mystery was just not my style. Given the way things ended and the time it took me to become really interested in the plot, I probably won’t pick up the inevitable sequel.
With a medieval and urban fantasy setting instead of the Edwardian/steampunk setting of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, the world-building of Murder of Mages felt more solid, more immediate. It follows a woman investigator and her Sherlockian partner as they investigate a string of murders.