Esmes Indie Highlights/SPFBO: Dead Letter by Benjamin Descovich

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This was part of pornokitsch’s grouping and got a semi final nod, lots of mystery, murder and intrigue in this one.

His review here:

Bingo: Self Published, dragons


Kettna isn’t doing well at her magic academy, she excels at book learning and theory, but in practice she falls short. She’s called to the Deans office and is expecting bad news during her review, she gets assigned to help a Constable with the City Guard that’s been having problems with robberies and murders.

She’s not at all happy with her assignment and leaves her school to go to the city in a foul mood. Her mood grows fouler still when she realizes she’s been assigned a body guard from her parents. Kettna’s family is powerful, with her mother being the Archmagus her life is valuable and she’s forced to have a tail.

When she gets to the city she starts to uncover an underground network of crime and drugs, all linking back to a head boss name Old Aunty, or Aunt Agnus. Kettna isn’t sure if this person is real or just a spook story thugs use but she’s discovering more and more as she interrogates people who have been blackmailed and robbed. Pointing fingers at the wrong and more powerful people proves dangerous.


Final Score: 7/10


  • Kettna is our main POV, she’s a failed student trying to figure out how to perform at her brand new job as Inspector, helping the Constable and the City Guard get their shit together. I liked her, she was an enjoyable and interesting character, on top of her new position as Inspector she’s also searching for her ex lover, Rix. They had a falling out and she’s no longer able to reach him telepathically, he’s either cut her off or he’s died and she doesn’t know which.
  • Elrin is a minor POV, he’s a young kid who works as a dishwasher in an inn called the Cog and Wheel. He’s a bookworm who loves learning and yearns for something more, and he’s a pretty “white” character on the black/grey/white scale. He cares for his ailing mother, works hard, and is overall a good person. There’s a surprise at the end of the book involving him which should lead to an interesting sequel.

Final Score: 7.5/10

World Building:

This is a magic heavy book with magic being commonplace and heavily involved in every day life. Tattoos on the hands show how learned and powerful a mage is, the more tattoos the more powerful the mage. Each hand represents different types of knowledge, a person with a heavier right hand will have more practical knowledge, and a mage with a more heavily tattooed left hand will have more scholarly knowledge.

Mages can weave to influence other people, in the beginning of the book Kettna weaves onto a ferryboat captain during one of his songs and turns his song into something magical, her bodyguard is not amused because magically influencing other people is illegal.

Drugs called Blaze, Nectar and Paff play a decent side role in the book, with people overdosing and dying and becoming addicted, with addicts breaking into peoples homes and stealing for their fix. The import and export of drugs in and out of the city plays a big part in crime.

Elves and dwarves and orcs are part of the world, but they’re sort of background races that don’t take up a huge amount of page time.

There are dragons in this world and even a “dragon season”, an elder female dragon used to guard the city but has recently left the city defenceless and open to attack from rival dragons, the mages are trying to figure out a solution to the problem.

Final Score: 8/10


The writing was quick, the book wasn’t terribly long so I finished it in a day. The tone was mysterious and tense. There’s a lot of unsolved crime and intrigue to this book which kept you turning pages even if there wasn’t a ton of action.

This one had a touch more simile and metaphor than the other books I’ve read recently, but I wouldn’t say it was purple by any means. The writing was clean too, no big or repeated editing errors. There’s also no cursing, so if you’re looking for ‘cleaner’ books in that regard this would could be for you.

Pacing Final Score: 7.5/10

Writing Final Score: 8/10


I’ve read City Guard/Police stories before with underground crime, but there was enough originality to keep it interesting.

Final Score: 7/10


  • For people who like a lot of magic
  • For people who like crime and mob bosses
  • For people who like drugs and addiction in fantasy
  • For people looking for female pov
  • For people who like dual POV
  • For people who like dragons and traditional fantasy races
  • For people who like stories about lost love
  • For people who prefer little or no cursing
  • For people who prefer series


Final Score: 45/60 or 7.5/10 or 4 stars on goodreads.


  1. “For people who like crime and mob bosses
    For people who like drugs and addiction in fantasy”

    Are these things glamourised at all in the story? And more importantly, is it the “good guys” who are involved in these things? If so I’ll probably have to give this a miss.

    1. That’s good to know. It’s a pet peeve of mine when the protagonists are unrepentant criminal scumbags. That’s why I kept hoping Locke Lamora would get killed. 😉

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