Every Oseran is born with a Mage Gift but, for the talented Inspector Russell Gaines, even his abilities could not help him prevent the death of his sister at the hands of a serial killer known as the New Age God.
Years later, the once-promising inspector is a retired, washed-up drunkard who finds himself plagued by the demons of his past. But, when a member of the prominent Melton family is found dead, and one of their own is implicated, he reluctantly finds himself drawn back into the world of detecting.
Forced to work with this new suspect, the troubled Julie Melton, Russell must work to prove her innocence in the case. But, this murder isn't the only mystery he's facing when he quickly realizes the young woman is hiding a shocking secret of her own—one that could mean the downfall of her family.
As more evidence is revealed, the facts of the case send Russell into even more of a downward spiral leaving Julie to investigate on her own. Will she be able to bring the former inspector back from the brink and bring the true killer to justice? And can she keep her secret hidden to save herself and her family from ruin?
Hughes’s mystery plotting is clear and well-executed, with twists that will keep readers guessing and suspense calibrated to keep the pages turning. By focusing on the one character without magic in a family of magicians, Hughes smartly subverts the trope of the “chosen one” while addressing grounded themes of identity, remorse, and duty. The novel is exposition-heavy in parts, as Hughes introduces mysteries, backstories, magic systems, and the world of Dagirus. That’s common in fantasy, of course, but the interesting world-building detail (and some occasional unnatural dialogue) also functions to slow down the plot of the mystery. Elements like illustrations of buildings or front pages of The Pirbis North Daily enrich the storytelling.
Fortunately, the leads develop an engaging rapport as, over the course of the investigation, Russell nurses a flask of whiskey and dazzles with feats of deduction, while Julie at last comes into her own. Meanwhile, Hughes (author of The Tales and Princesses series) reveals an antagonist that will surely loom over future books in the series. Her Dagirus is a world worth exploring, populated by interesting characters, and a strong foundation for the series.
Takeaway: This twisty crime fantasy caper sets up an exciting series, compelling protagonists, and a major villain.
Great for fans of: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows , V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A