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RJ Blain
R.J. Blain, author
Death is a way of life outside of the safety of Inner Tulsa, and Jade means to keep flipping Mother Nature off until old age claims her. With one eye always on the sky, the last thing she needs is a pack of bounty hunters out for her living head. With no idea of why anyone would want her, her wits might keep her free, assuming she can resist the charming lures of Sandro, one of the men out to claim her as his own. Left with the choice of being the evening snack of a tornado or taking shelter with the bounty hunter, she does what she does best: she lives on the edge. Striking a bargain with the handsome bounty hunter buys her another day of life, but it also dumps her into the heart of a sinister plot, one meant to enslave the residents of the storm-tossed city—and the others brave and foolish enough to call the Alley home.
Fantasy author R.J. Blain (A Magical Romantic Comedy series) delivers an adventurous romp through postapocalyptic Tulsa in 2043. Jade Tamrin is a fox-human hybrid—who’s hiding two much more coveted traits: she can shapeshift fully into a fox, and she’s a witch who can control toxins and see the past. Her hybridity makes her extremely high-value bait for bounty hunters, who catch people like her so that rich families can buy them at auction, enslave them, and marry them off to the eldest heir to get desired magical traits into the bloodline. One of those bounty hunters is the mysterious, sexy master magician Sandro Moretti. Despite their enmity and her desire to remain free, Jade must ally with Sandro to uncover what’s behind the extreme tornadoes that ravage Tulsa and kill its residents daily.

Some readers will be put off by the book’s somewhat cavalier treatment of a form of slavery for which “tiny,” “pure white” women are most targeted. And the pacing and structure may cause readers some frustration. The opening scene, with Jade and Sandro trapped in a cellar together during a storm, cues readers to expect a romance novel, but Sandro doesn’t reappear for another 200 pages, which describe three days of Jade’s surviving more tornadoes, finding a new place to live, hiding from bounty hunters, and working shifts at her two jobs. It’s only when he returns that their relationship and the investigation of the story’s big questions—who took out the bounty on Jade in the first place? What’s causing the tornadoes?—really kick into gear.

But Jade is the typically feisty and fierce heroine of science fiction, a badass with a sharp tongue and an inconvenient sense of honor that leads her to take big risks to help others. And the magic is fascinating, boasting a proliferation of mages and witches all with distinct abilities—plastic mages, poetry mages, curse mages, elementalists, toxin witches, and the particularly well-drawn music mages, capable of altering reality by harnessing the power of song. Fantasy fans will enjoy Blain’s complex and well-built world, root for the fiercely principled Jade, and eagerly await the next installment.

Takeaway: This sci-fi fantasy adventure boasts an intriguing system of magic and a fierce heroine.

Great for fans of: A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers, The Clockwork Witch series by Michelle D. Sonnier.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A