In Jennifer Estep’s Cold Burn of Magic, a 2015 young adult fantasy novel and the first book in her BLACK BLADE urban fantasy series, the world is divided into mortals and magicks, humans who have some type of magical power. The southern U.S. town of Cloudburst Falls, a hotbed of magical power, caters to tourists who want to see magical people and creatures. It’s reminiscent of Harry Potter World, except that it contains real magic, including pixies who are household servants and monsters like the aptly named lochnesses, who lurk under bridges and require a toll of jewelry or money from all who pass over their bridges. Cloudburst Falls is controlled by mafia-like families with powerful magical abilities, particularly the Draconi and Sinclair Families.
Lila, a seventeen year old orphan, exists on the edges of society as a thief and pickpocket, secretly living in a hidden lair in the local public library. Lila is reasonably content with her life on the fringes, hiding her powerful martial skills and magical abilities from everyone:
All I had to do was stare into someone’s eyes, and I knew exactly what they were feeling at that moment, whether it was love, hate, anger, or something else. Not only that, but I could actually feel the emotion in my own heart, just like the person who was experiencing it. Soulsight, it was called. A major Talent and one that I could have done without.
Lila has one additional magical Talent that she is even more anxious to keep hidden. But one day, while visiting her fence’s pawn shop, Lila impulsively helps three other teenagers who are being attacked by a group of men armed with swords. Soon afterwards Lila finds herself unexpectedly and involuntarily pulled into their world, obligated to use her sword-fighting and magical abilities as a bodyguard to Devon, the son and heir of the Sinclair family. Her living standards immediately take a huge leap upwards, as she relocates to the Sinclair family mansion, but her risk of being killed takes an equal upward swing. Someone is trying to kidnap or kill Devon, and now Lila is in their way. It doesn’t help that she and Devon are attracted to each other. Lila wants to take care of herself and avoid emotional entanglements, and getting attached to a guy who’s a major player in the town’s power structure isn’t part of her plans.
Cold Burn of Magic is an easy to read, engaging young adult fantasy. Unfortunately, there’s not much new ground being broken here in this genre. The reader will find many of the typical tropes and plot devices of this genre, including a teenage kickass female main character with extraordinary magical powers, alone and angry at the world, sniping at everyone she comes in contact with (even when letting her smart mouth run loose is a stupid thing to do). There’s also a fairly standard character in Damon, the hot guy from a powerful magical family who’s out of her league, but who wants her regardless. Finally, we have a secret enemy who is out to get Lila and Devon, whose identity I guessed almost from the first time I met that character.
However, the story moves along quickly and is enjoyable overall. Devon is an admirable young man with his own set of burdens and pain, but he remains determined to act with strength and honor. Although there’s a lot of romantic tension between Lila and Devon, the relationship is left to develop over time and in future volumes in this series. Lila’s assigned servant, a rude 6-inch tall, cowboy-boot-wearing and honeybeer-swilling pixie named Oscar, adds a nice touch of humor to the story. And there are some creative and interesting aspects to the magical system in this world, including the toll-demanding lochness monster under the bridge and the bloodiron weapons that can suck magical talent out of one person and release it to another.
I recommend Cold Burn of Magic primarily for younger readers who will love a strong and snarky teenage protagonist with magical powers and aren’t weary of the typical plotlines in this genre. The sequel, Dark Heart of Magic, is due to be published in October 2015.