Review: Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald

Spiral Hunt

Let’s start this off with 2 bits that have very little to do with this actual book:

  1. I found Margaret Ronald via The Magic District, a neat blog maintained by a group of fantasy writers. I’m planning on going to Greg’s signing at Mysterious Galaxy this weekend, and thus I felt an urge to catch up on other Magic District Authors… I like to develop small harmless obsessions to ward off the larger more destructive ones. You can buy copies of Spiral Hunt from Mysterious Galaxy
  2. The relation between reviewers and authors is a much discussed topic among review bloggers. (use the google if that kind of thing interests you.) Early in Spiral Hunt, there’s a scene that introduces Nate. In this scene Sarah attacks Nate for writing a bad review of a numerology book online. This struck my meta-funny bone. I read nothing into this and am not intimidated in the slightest.

And now we enter the review proper:

At first glance Spiral Hunt is simple story of Genevieve Scelan an orphaned bicycle messenger, with a particular knack for finding stuff, trying to find her niche in Boston. We’re introduced to a cast of interesting characters, magic bubbles to the surface and a mystery begins to define itself. Woven through the rest of the story is a history lesson about Boston and its Irish immigrants. Ronald spends the first 2/3 of the book setting up the connections between those three threads, Boston, Scelan and Magic. In the last 3rd of the book, the body count rises, reality takes a back seat to magic and everything gets turned up to 11. The various magical factions want Scelan to choose a side, but what she chooses will change the very foundations of magic in this world.

Any good magic system must define a cost that magic requires, and the system that Ronald defines is a perfect example. That cost is explored both in terms of the modern drug trade and the class structure established by changing economic systems. This all evolves organically from the story with hardly a noticeable info-dump. The other half of a good urban fantasy is the non-magical urban setting. Ronald takes us on a tour of bars, parks, rivers, traffic, and even a nursing home. Baseball and Coffee keep one foot of the story firmly planted on the mundane concrete of Boston.

Scelan’s particular magical trait, tracking things down by their scent, adds a special layer of description. We learn what magic smells like (fireworks and rain), we learn what important characters smell like, and just as everything described has layers of smells, every smell described has layers of meaning. This unique trait is a little clunky at times but overall an elegant tool that adds richness to both the world and the story.

The antagonists, once they become an active part of the story come off a bit flat. It’s largely the fault of the 1st person single view point constraint, but never quite understanding the individual motivations of various nefarious other seems like something that can be improved on in future volumes. Speaking of future volumes. The state the world is left in at the end of Spiral Hunt will let Ronald stretch her world building muscles again in any sequel. I look forward to experiencing the result.

~ by mentatjack on May 21, 2009.

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