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Monday, February 9, 2015

Diana Pharaoh Francis: DIAMOND CITY MAGIC SERIES

Author:  Diana Pharaoh Francis
Series:  DIAMOND CITY MAGIC SERIES
Plot Type: Romantic Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality4; Humor—2-3 
Publisher:  Bell Bridge Books     
          Trace of Magic (9/2014)
          Edge of Dreams (4/2015)

This post was revised and updated on 4/20/15 to include a review of Edge of Dreams, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building and a review of the first novel.   

    FAIR WARNING: This review of Edge of Dreams      
      contains a few spoilers for Trace of Magic.      
            NOVEL 2:  Edge of Dreams              
     As the first novel ended, Riley's long-held secrets were unveiled to the magic mafia kingpins of Diamond City (aka the Tyet). Now they all know that she is the strongest tracer in town and possibly the only tracer in existence who can see trace off dead people. To review, a tracer "can see the ribbons of light that everyone leaves behind and follow them." Riley has other powerful magical talents that she has managed to keep secret, but in the meantime, all of the mobsters want her services—but as a captive slave, not as a paid consultant. As the book opens, Riley has managed to stave off any attacks and has even earned some big bucks from private clients. The only thorn in her side is the four-person surveillance team that insists on following her around. She assumes that they have been sent by either her former boyfriend, Clay Price, or Price's brother (and major mobster), Gregg Touray. 

     About half-way through the book, Riley reunites with Price, who comes to her rescue more than once during this story. At the end of the first book, Riley broke up with Price after she learned the hard way that his brother heads up a Tyet crime syndicate. At one point in the first book, Gregg Touray captured Riley and tried to force her to work for him. He only let her go free when Price agreed to quit his job with the police force and work full time for Gregg. Riley feared that the time would come when Price would be forced to choose between her and his brother, so she walked away from him because she wasn't sure that he would choose her. Riley's trust issues are fully explored in this book, and not in the way you might have expectedcertainly not in the way Riley expected! 

     Riley's adventure in this book kicks off in the first chapter when Lauren Morten, a Diamond City police officer, begs Riley to help find her nephew, who has gone off with a group of his friends into the mines to find the minerals needed to manufacture their own Sparkle Dust (aka SD, a highly addictive drug). Riley, of course, can't resist a kids-in-danger case, so she heads for the mines accompanied by her brother (Leo, a metalsmith), her bodyguards, and Lauren. Once they are deep in the mines, the situation unravels quickly, and Riley finds herself at the mercy of an evil, psychotic creep named Percy Caldwell, who, as Riley says, "had some sort of Hitleresque Mengele project going down here, along with manufacturing Sparkle Dust." Percy wants to use Riley's magical skills for his own purposes, and to make sure that she understands that she has no choice, he punctuates his demands with a few dozen cigarette burns to Riley's hands and arms (along with other types of torture). The rest of the book follows Riley as she deals with Percy and the tragic destruction he leaves in his wake. 

     Woven through Riley's trials and tribulations with Percy are her memories of her parents. Her mother was murdered when Riley was only four, and her father disappeared some years later. Riley has always been bothered that Dad remarried only a year after her mother's death, although she loves her step-mother and her three step-siblings very much. Over the years, Riley has tried to find her father's trace, but she has never been able to do so, and she has always felt incredibly guilty about that. In this book, Riley learns some new and shocking information about her father that changes her feelings about him. Riley's daddy issues play a major role in the later part of this book and in its cliff-hanger ending.

     As I got to the end of this book, I realized that not a single story line had been resolved (except for the romance, and I'm not entirely sure about that one). In fact, as the book nears its final pages, the story lines become even more complex—with more questions than answers. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the story gallops along at such a fast pace that I couldn't stop reading, but on the other hand, I felt cheated at the end when…well I can't tell you why because that would ruin the ending for you. 


     Here's the deal: When a novel is part of an ongoing series, the author needs to lay out a specific book-size plot (question, action, conflict, resolution) within a broad series story arc that has its own questions, conflicts, and resolutions. When this writing process is done well, an individual novel in a series will have two types of plots and subplots: 1. One or more story arcs that are resolved by the end of each book; and 2. Story lines that relate to the series arc and that are not resolved until the end of the series. Let's face it. Every book needs to end with some resolution. Call it a reward to the reader for finishing the book. Unfortunately, Edge of Dreams is missing its own individual story arc. Instead, it is tightly and irrevocably bound to the next novel, which will—one hopes—resolve some of the conflicts.


     Here is some relevant advice to authors from a posted essay on The Editor's Blog entitled "Setting Up a Series": "In a series, books still point to future events and a full series resolution, but each book also answers its own internal questions and story setup. You get to decide the number and depth of the ties to the other stories in the series, but you also must complete each book. Satisfy your readers along the way so they know you can carry through with your setup. So they feel the completion of your stories…Each novel is still a novel and subject to the rules of good fiction writing. That means a complete story."

     And one last grumble: I wish that the author wouldn't continue to make Riley the most physically abused character in the book. This time around, she is drugged, sliced and diced, slapped and beaten, paralyzed by a spell, nearly frozen to death, and more. Oddly, even though she is generally accompanied by others, they don't get hurt nearly as badly as Riley. I realize that Riley is a courageous heroine who runs headlong into danger, but really, couldn't someone else share the pain? 


     I just reread my review and realized that if sounds very negative. Even with  the problems with resolution deficiency and heroine abuse, I'm still enjoying the series, mostly because of the creative world-building, and the exploits of the intrepid heroine, who bounces back to good health with the aid of "heal-all" charms and jumps right back into the action. Click HERE and scroll down just a bit to read an excerpt.


            WORLD-BUILDING              
     The series is set in Diamond City, Colorado, which sits on the edge of a huge caldera that has long been mined for diamonds. Back in the early days of the diamond rush, the bad guys formed a consortium called the Tyet to run the diamond trade and the city itself. About ten years ago, the Tyet splintered into warring factions, with each group striving for ultimate power. Ever since then, Diamond City has become a mafia war zone. One of the worst things to come out of this chaotic struggle is Sparkle Dust (aka SD), a highly addictive drug made from magic-infused minerals found only in the Diamond City Caldera. Eventually SD addicts fade away into translucent wraiths until they vanish away completely.

     Magic is an integral part of this world, and magic users fall generally into several categories:
     Tracers: They are trackers who can follow a person's magical trail.       
     Makers: They can use magic to make things. For example, the heroine's step-brothers are metal smiths who use their magic to manipulate metal, and one of her friends is a cooker who uses his magic to manipulate ingredients to make excellent food.
     Travelers: They can teleport from one place to another.
     Dreamers: They can enter a person's mind and tamper with thoughts and memories.
     Minders: They can make shields that deflect or absorb magical attacks.
     Tinkers: They can make small things (including body parts) move, bend, or break. The good ones are often doctors or healers, but the evil ones are frequently torturers.
     Haunters: They are very rare. They can get into a person's mind, pick up on emotions, and amplify them. They can trap a person in a nightmare.

     Riley Hollis, the series heroine, is an extremely powerful tracer who has kept her powers secret from everyone but her immediate family. She knows that if the Tyetthe magical moblearns what she can do, one of their factions will kidnap her and force her into their service for the rest of her life. Here, Riley explains her talent: "Everybody leaves a magical trail of sorts, like an indelible ribbon unrolling behind them. It isn't actually on this plane, but in a sort of other dimension that only tracers like me can see. It fades pretty quick for most tracers, disappearing in a matter of hours or maybe a week or two if they are really strong. It never fades for me. I can even see dead trace." Riley has had the usual tragic childhood that is suffered by most urban fantasy heroines. Her mother (also a tracer) was murdered when Riley was only five, and her father disappeared without a trace when she was 16. Riley's family now consists of her step-mother Mel, half-sister Taylor, and two step-brothers. 

     Riley pretends to be a hack tracer and earns her living by hiring out her tracking skills to find missing persons and objects, kind of like a magical private investigator. Secretly, she searches for kidnapped children, a frequent problem in this crime-ridden, mob-run town. Each time she tracks down a missing child, she places an anonymous call to the police telling them where they can find the kidnappers and the child, always being very careful to keep her identity hidden. 


    Clay Price is a Diamond City police detective who is an enforcer for Gregg Touray, one of the major Tyet bosses. The police department is notoriously dirty, but Riley believes that Price is one of the better cops—more humane than most of his colleagues. At the very beginning of book 1, Price is Riley's nemesis, but the two soon (VERY soon) become allies and lovers. 


     Diana Pharaoh Francis has also written the HORNGATE WITCHES series. Click HERE to read my reviews of books in of that series.

            NOVEL 1:  Trace of Magic             
     As the story opens, Riley tracks down a kidnapped mother and child, unintentionally attracting the attention of Clay Price, who comes to her with an offer that she can't refuse. Price wants Riley to find a particular missing man, and if she refuses, he will use his connections with the police department and Tyet to make her life as miserable as possible. Just as Riley agrees to Price's demands, she gets a phone call from her sister telling her that Josh, Taylor's ex-fiance, is missing under violent circumstances. Taylor has found Josh's apartment in a bloody shambles, and Josh is gone. Riley insists on finding Josh before she begins working on Price's missing-person case, so he agrees to help.

     Neither Riley nor Price trusts one another. She believes that his mob connections will overshadow any promises he makes to her, and he believes that she is lying to him or at least withholding information (which she is). This mutual distrust turns their burgeoning romantic relationship into a very bumpy affair, although they manage to forget their differences during their sexy bedroom scenes. Eventually, they discover that their two missing persons cases are closely related, and that's when the action accelerates. As the plot plays out, Riley learns the truth about Price's ties to Tyet, and he learns the truth about her incredible magical powers.


     This author is a very good story teller who creates fascinating characters and dramatic, engrossing plots. In Riley, she gives us a heroine who is intelligent, independent, brave, and strong enough to withstand a considerable amount of physical abuse (e.g., hit by a bullet, blindsided by a magical surge, slashed by exploding glass). Through most of Riley's traumatic adventures, Price remains largely intact and uninjured (until very late in the story). It's Riley who is on the receiving end of most of the pain and suffering. I'm hoping that this aspect of the story will change because it keeps Riley in victim mode, with Price as her overprotective, macho-man rescuer. 


     Several characters introduced in this book will probably figure in future books, particularly Josh, Gregg Touray (a traveler), Cass (a healer/dreamer), Savannah Morrell (another Tyet mob leader), and Sandra Arnow, a (possibly crooked) FBI agent. The story ends with a soft cliff-hanger that involves a search for century-old magical artifacts, and the final scene leaves Riley and Price's future relationship on a precarious edge. So far, I'm hooked on the mythology and the characters and am looking forward to the sequel. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel.

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