Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron
My teenage daughter (Tali) and I enjoyed listening together to the audiobook editions of Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series, so we were pleased to learn that Aaron wrote (and self-published) a spin-off series also set in the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ), which takes place a couple of decades after the end of Last Dragon Standing.
But you don’t need to read the HEARTSTRIKERS books first, so feel free to jump in right here with Minimum Wage Magic (2018).
The DFZ series, beginning with Minimum Wage Magic, stars Opal Yong-ae, a young mage who ekes out a living in the DFZ by working as a “Cleaner.” This nasty, but sometimes lucrative, career involves bidding for jobs to clean out apartments and houses that have been abandoned in the Detroit Free Zone. When a Cleaner bids on a job, they are hoping, during the cleaning process, to find valuable magical items that they can sell and profit from. It’s like an urban fantasy version of Storage Wars.
Opal is desperate for a good find. She’s totally broke and she’s got to pay somebody $10,000 by the end of the week. When she finds a mage’s dead body at the last apartment she bid on, and then somebody tries to shoot her, she wonders if she’s onto something big. When an attractive fellow cleaner named Nik offers to help her out, she isn’t sure she can trust him.
As Opal and Nik gradually solve the mystery, we learn about Opal’s background (she’s from North Korea), her family life (her family is wealthy and her dad is really important), and what brought her to the DFZ . We also get to explore a lot more of the DFZ than we did in the HEARTSTRIKERS series.
Minimum Wage Magic is the first of three novels in the DFZ series. Tali and I thought it was great to be back in the DFZ and to see it from a non-dragon perspective. We didn’t love the characters quite as much as we loved the Heartstriker dragons, but we had fun with this quick-paced adventure and we expect that Opal and Nik will grow on us. We want to see where Rachel Aaron is taking them.
Audible Studios, who produced the audio editions of the DFZ books, smartly chose Emily Woo Zeller to tell Opal’s story. She’s perfectly cast and her performance added a lot to our enjoyment.