Magic to the Bone is a breath of fresh air in the urban fantasy genre, in much the same way that Ilona Andrews‘ Kate Daniels series is a breath of fresh air. Instead of the same tired werewolf/vampire soap opera that so many novels perpetuate, Magic to the Bone is more concerned with the ramifications of adding magic to modern society and exploring the realistic consequences. Magic, in Devon Monk’s universe, has been recently discovered, and along with it, the price of its use. Every time someone uses magic, there is a backlash of sorts: the caster might suffer a days-long migraine, lose memories, or gain a scar. Of course, the next thing humanity researched was how to Offload a spell’s cost onto someone else. (There’s a chilling offhand line about how one of the legal, sanctioned methods of doing this is to redirect the backlash to the inmates of a penitentiary.)
The story begins as our heroine, Allie Beckstrom, discovers a child near death from an illegal Offload, and senses her father’s magical “signature” in the spell that is affecting the boy. Allie is the black-sheep scion of a great business/magic empire, and confronting her father about the spell means speaking to him for the first time in seven years. It goes badly, and when Daddy turns up dead, Allie is the prime suspect.
What follows is an exciting and often poignant story that follows Allie as she attempts to stay alive, deal with a suddenly complicated love life, and solve a mystery. Along the way, she learns far more about magic and its uses than what is taught in the official magic schools. We meet several delightful secondary characters that I’m looking forward to seeing again, and unlike many other urban fantasy writers, Devon Monk doesn’t set up Allie as the only worthwhile female character in the book. She allows Allie a wonderful best friend and a fascinating woman who might become another good friend someday.
It was perhaps a bit too easy to figure out whodunit, though I must admit I didn’t figure out why, though it should have occurred to me. I do wonder why it took Allie so long to figure out that if one magical signature could be forged, so could another magical signature that was left at another crime scene, but that’s a small quibble.
I have mixed emotions about the romantic plot. On the one hand, I’m not sure whether I believe that Allie would open up to Zayvion as quickly as she does, but on the other hand, the circumstances are weird enough and harrowing enough that it might just work. I have to admit that I groaned a little when Monk introduced a plot device that both draws the couple closer and gives both of them a “power-up,” but it’s not Monk’s fault that I’m a little weary of the “magical sexual synergy” type of plot. And for what it’s worth, it’s done well. I thought the sex scenes were perfect, in that they focused more on the flow of energy between Allie and Zayvion, and less on the tab A-slot B stuff.
I also have to applaud Monk for not forgetting about a small “Chekhov’s gun” that she introduced early in the story. Allie, knowing she’s prone to memory loss due to magic, carries a notebook with her to keep track of important things. I kept noticing throughout the book that she wasn’t writing in it, and thought Monk had just forgotten to incorporate the notebook into the story. I should have had more faith! Allie’s absentmindedness has consequences later.
Magic to the Bone isn’t completely perfect, but Devon Monk shows the potential to be a standout writer in the subgenre. Most importantly, I could not put this book down; I read it in two nights, with only work and sleep coming between me and the pages. Well done.
Magic to the Bone is the first book in Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series of urban fantasy. I think this series is now finished and Monk has moved on to a new one featuring a spin-off character. I came to the party late, but I’m glad I have all the Beckstrom books ahead of me, because I really enjoyed this one.
Monk lets us know in the first paragraph that her characters inhabit a world that functions much as ours does, and yet differently.
It was the morning of my twenty-fifth birthday, and all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee, a hot breakfast, and a couple of hours away from the stink of used magic that seeped through the walls of my apartment every time it rained.
Allie is nearly six feet tall, breath-takingly beautiful, brilliantly snarky. She could be irritating (and often she isirritating) except that Monk has her hobbling around in pain, usually in the rain, for much of the book. In Allie’s world, when a person uses magic, magic uses them back, bringing bruising, headaches, memory loss, and in extreme cases even madness. Most magical practitioners like Allie create Disbursement spells, parceling out the pain to come on later; a sore throat for a few days, for example. Some shift or “offload” the pain to another, and this is illegal. Allie has the ability to recognize magical signatures of those who have offloaded the magic consequences onto another. In Magic to the Bone, Allie is called to look at a little boy who has been used that way, and recognizes the magical signature as that of her father. This puts her on a journey that brings both emotional devastation and the threat of death.
I like Monk’s magical system. Magic is an energy form like electricity, and was only “discovered” thirty years ago. It can be harvested by tapping the wild storms that happen high in the atmosphere, or in rarer cases from the earth. It can be stored and held in glass and metal cisterns. Allie’s father holds the patents to the collecting rods and the storage equipment. There are magical “dead zones,” places where no magic is stored, and so far there is no easy way to make magic portable. Zayvion Jones, the handsome and mysterious man who keeps crossing Allie’s path, strongly implies that magic has, in fact, been around and in use a lot longer, but only to a few. Allie’s own gifts, as she begins to uncover them, lead her question what she has always been taught about magic.
Monk alternates a first-person point of view with a third-person POV from Cody, a young man. When we meet Cody, he is in some bad circumstances, which soon get worse. Cody is connected to Allie is some way, as is Zayvion. The secondary characters, Zayvion, Mama, and Allie’s non-magical friend Nola, are distinctive and lively.
The sex is steamy, but the magical problems take center stage, putting this book firmly in the urban fantasy category. Allie fluctuates between being independent and prickly, and falling into Zayvion’s arms without a thought, but this behavior is explained. She struggles with memory loss, a side effect of the magic, but she also developed a hard shell to defend against her father’s pressure, both overt and magical, to control her life. I thought the memory loss was a little inconsistent, frankly, but I think Monk will smooth this out as the series continues.
Allie also has a couple of speech quirks that set my teeth on edge, but overall she is a vivid character and the book moves pretty quickly. This is an interesting universe and a fascinating magical system. Allie has strong allies, but a lot is arrayed against her — and with her memory issues, there are risks she doesn’t remember and assets that are temporarily beyond her reach. Magic to the Bone was a fun read and I can’t wait to track down the rest.
Allie Beckstrom — (2008-2013) Publisher: Using magic means it uses you back — and every spell exacts a price from the user. Some people, however, get out of it by Offloading the cost of magic onto an innocent, then Allison Beckstrom’s job is to identify the spell-caster. Allie would rather live a hand-to-mouth existence than accept the family fortune and the strings that come with it, but when she finds a boy dying from a magical Offload that has her father’s signature all over it she is thrown back into the world of his black magic.