Murder of Mages by Marshall Ryan Maresca
I confess, I bought five books before leaving for Japan. This is the fifth and final of my purchases. So what happened to the others? Well, apparently I forgot to do a write up about the first book – which was completely uninspiring so you didn’t miss anything. The second book was too terrible to admit I read. Books three and four were good – but belong to the Emperor’s Edge Series, which I am certain I have already commented on (and I might again when I finish the series). This brings us to book five.
After some terrible reads (books 1 & 2 of my 5 acquisitions), this was good. It was surprisingly good. The story at first glances seems to be a collection of tropes or clichés. Two inspectors disliked by their collegues, take on the devious criminal serial killer in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. Or something like that. The world, presents as very Victorian with elements of Sherlock Holmes and there is magic.
Ok, now that I have completely turned you off the story, let me say – “Really, it is good.” It is well written and the strength comes from the characters. The two leads are Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling, Inspectors Third Class and newly made partners. In a twist, Satrine is the mother of two girls of teenage years. Her husband, a city Inspector, recently had an accident while on duty that has left him in a vegetative state. He cannot speak or move and needs constant care. Desperate to provide a living wage for her family and protect her daughters from the cruelty of the world Satrine manipulates her way into the position of Inspector with the city’s constabulary. She may not have a background in police work, but she is far from incapable. Trained to be an Intelligence Agent for the country, Satrine has skills. She is also smart, assertive, but not without faults. She is a strong female character.
Welling is the mage – an open secret in his family and at work. He is a thinker and pieces together information to create a whole and logical picture. He is smart, flawed, and not an orphan. He comes from a very large family all of whom serve the city in some fashion – most with the constabulary.
The third most important character is the villain. He is drive, delusional, dedicated and precise. His descent into madness or at least into murder is well explained and understandable. It make sense – and that is crucial when it comes to creating a strong plot. There is enough conflict from the rest of the caste to showcase the flaws in the characters. But it is not one sided. Yes, the other inspectors don’t like Satrine – the first female inspector. They certainly like her less when her duplicity is brought to life. However, despite that, they respect her courage and determination. There is grudging respect given towards the end. It provides balance, keeping the story from being comic-bookish. There are no clear black and whites – except the murder, even understanding his motivations he is still very guilty.
The world seems to pull from classic Victorian fantasy. However it does so with grace and elegance. More specifically, it does what all Victorian Fantasy should do – the author has built their own world. Any discrepancies to history are neatly explained away as this is a different world. The world seems solid, but simple. It doesn’t have the depth of history (at least that sense of history) I felt when reading Death of a Necromancer by Martha Wells. However, the author has done a good job of creating a city that functions logically within it world. Maradaine seems like a real place.
The use of magic is my least favourite aspect. I don’t like the Circles, the cloistered private organizations all mages are supposed to belong to. I don’t like that magic is an inherent ability with one’s self. But since everything else was enjoyable to read I won’t complain to greatly on this one aspect.
A Murder of Mages is a great read. It is a solid plot, set in a detailed world with compelling characters. It has good pacing, rational progression and hits just the right note with the dialogue. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading Marshall Ryan Maresca’s next offering.