This was part of Qwillery’s grouping and has been eliminated. I’ve read a few fairy tale retellings and to be honest, they never really clicked with me. I was hesitant to start this because I didn’t know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.
Brendan is a private investigator, a dwarf, and has a father who is the head of the Mage’s Council. He mostly works on small-time stuff, trying his best to stay out of politics and take on bigger cases that might draw the eye of the more powerful people in the city. His efforts to go unnoticed get derailed when Magnus walks into his office and asks him to find Lily Whitamaker, his goddaughter. Her stepmother, Melania, is probably responsible for her going missing, and he wants him to find her before it’s too late. She’s been put under a sleeping curse and has since disappeared.
The plot thickens with each chapter, it turns out that the wicked step mother was making a synthetic form of pixie dust, and it’s a powerful drug. Those that take it risk going insane – regular pixie dust works as a relaxing agent for those who struggle with tempers (half ogres take it a lot), but the fake stuff can turn you violent and make you lose touch with reality. There was a neat scene where someone gets dusted involuntarily and it was like reading about someone’s acid trip.
The Stepmother has her fingers in everything all over the city, and she’s making powerful enemies – like the Siren Lorelei. Lorelei makes deals with people but her prices are high, the only currency she accepts is ‘life force’ and will suck out years of your life as a form of payment. Lorelei has some interesting connections down the line with Brendans father, Lily, and other people throughout the city.
This was a very noir kind of book where you’re not sure who is on what side and what their real intentions are – it was pretty entertaining.
Final Score: 7.5/10
Brendan is the main character and it’s all told through his first person perspective, he’s a pretty relaxed guy, decent sense of humor, and overall a person with good character. He’s gotten himself way in over his head and watching him try to deal with things as they came was interesting to read. He’s never really settled down with anyone since he’s so busy, and doesn’t seem to take much interest in the women around him, keeping a distance between himself and others. He does really care about people though, he has an assistant named Stasia who he’s extremely protective of, despite her ability to keep herself fairly safe, (she’s a shape changer). He will put himself at risk, he’ll manage threats to his own person with a cool head – but if you start threatening his friends or family he goes from 0 – 10 fast.
The side characters like Stinky the half ogre, Stasia the shapeshifter were decent, I wish there was a little more to them, but that’s tough to do in first person single pov.
Final Score: 7/10
There was a LOT of world building going on, this is an urban fantasy with modern things like cars, computers, and all that – but it also managed to have a very surreal fantasy like setting. It’s almost like the Kingdom of Far Far Away from Shrek, but more modernized.
There were elves, dwarves, orcs, ogres, minotaurs, witches – the works. It all was fleshed out though and didn’t feel rushed or crammed together. There were little nuances about how the magic worked that made things feel very together and a part of the world rather than things slapped on to make things more interesting. For instance, you have to have a warrant to use a scrying circle to spy on people.
The Underground was probably my favorite part of the world building, it was formed a few hundred years in the past and has flourished as a second city under the “Topside” city. It started out as a place to shove out the ‘riff-raff’ from the regular city but developed into something a lot more with it’s own King’s and government. It was well described and sort of creepy, and also fit the world nicely. Little touches like the fact that they couldn’t run electricity down there because the Topside government cut them off, forcing them into using oil lamps really just set a different tone for a different setting.
The Magic in the world is everywhere, and I love how the author describes how it’s used and how it feels – mages can sense magic and it has a distinct feel to it. It’s rather mysterious magic, using spells without a clear “system” to it – but it wasn’t totally mysterious, you have to cast magic in certain ways, and there are consequences to having a spell backfire.
Part of the surrealism is the description of the buildings and other elements to the city that make it stand out from an urban fantasy in the ‘real word’ – the Mages Council has a building made out of crystal that’s shaped like a nautilus shell.
Final Score: 8.25/10
Pacing, Prose, and Tone:
The tone was pretty light, not so light as to fall into a ‘comedy’ category, but there was a decent amount of humor in the book. Despite the situations Brendan gets himself into, which are both dangerous and stressful, the tone is kept lighter through his sense of sarcasm and snark. The relationship he has with his associate also keeps things more jovial, they have a very teasing healthy relationship where they’re both loyal to each other, and that’s nice to see.
The pacing was pretty quick, this is a shorter book so there wasn’t much of any fluff or filler.
I didn’t catch any editing errors, and the way the setting and magic was described stood out to me.
Pacing Final Score: 8.25/10
Writing Final Score: 8.25/10
There were many tropes used in this book, I mean it’s a retelling of a classic story – but the way it was told and the world building is what made this story unique. I liked the politics and drugs mixed in with a classic story, I haven’t seen that done before.
Final Score: 7.5/10
I’ll definitely be reading more by this author, I liked the imagination and the world building, as well as the humor and writing style. It could use a little more character development, but it wasn’t like the characters were a drawback, I didn’t dislike them, I wanted more from them.
Final Score: 47.25/60 or 7.87/10 or 3.93/5 on GR