I’m a die-hard fan of the Heartstrikers series, the first series set in this world known as the DFZ, or the Detroit Free Zone. It’s a rebuilt version of Detroit set about a hundred years from now and it’s overflowing with ambient magic allowing for the largest group of mages, magical creatures, dragons etc in the world. This is set after the events of Hearstrikers and can be read totally on its own, there’s a whole new cast of characters and despite references to the first series, you definitely don’t have to read the first series to get into the second series.
Opal is a “cleaner”, or someone who comes through after tenants break their payment agreements and she sorts through all of their stuff searching for things she can sell at auction to make money. She still relatively new to it, she’s only been in the profession for about a year and a half. She grew up in Korea and to escape her father’s extremely controlling ways, she moved to the DFZ to get a degree in Art History. She’s been forced to ostracize herself from past friends to keep them safe as she owes a debt to her father, and he’s not to be trifled with.
She’s been on her own for a while, and she’s just hit her first slump after a series of bad luck incidents that left her broke. She gets a gig for an apartment that’s been defunct on payments for 30 days and is pretty happy about it since it came so cheap, she’s bound to make her money back and then some. When she goes into clean the apartment, however, she finds a dead body. Furious, she calls her booker and gives him an earful – cleaners can take what’s in the apartment if the tenants are still alive and behind on payments, but once people are dead inheritance laws comes into effect. Due to her extinuating circumstances, she’s been given the go-ahead to search the apartment anyway and grab what she can that doesn’t look sentimental. She comes across an enchanted box that has a recipe for a massive conjuring hidden away under the bed. She has no idea what sort of thing this recipe would conjure, but since the ingredients alone cost about 200,000 dollars she figures this is a big deal. She goes to investigate and finds further clues as to what this may entail and why someone would come up with a recipe with such a high cost. It leads her into a lot of danger and she’s forced into teaming up with a guy named Nick who saved her from some assassins who were watching the apartment she was cleaning out. Together they try and unravel the mystery of what this professor left behind while trying not to die. The audience only knows how much Opal knows, so it keeps us guessing what’s going on with the recipe, what does it make, why would anyone take the time to put that many expensive ingredients together, who this dead professor was etc.
I liked Opal, she’s spunky and independent and is trying her best to be ethical and also make a living in a less than ethical city. There certainly is a theme of shitty moms in her books, Opal’s mother is a biiiittcchhh. She gets her clothes a size too small for “encouragement” and her father is a manipulative sociopath who’s doing his best to make sure she goes defunct on her payments to him – that way she’s forced to move back to Korea as was their agreement. Opal has an AI that’s very human-like, she has an advanced emotional response system that although isn’t genuine, sounds genuine enough to Opal for her to get attached, despite her knowing it’s just a program. I liked Nick the more I went through the book, he’s a very stoic and quiet character so it takes a bit to get to know him – but he comes in handy and together they make a good team, watching each other’s backs as they navigate the dangers of the DFZ. It looks like Aaron is going for another slow burn romance as well, and if I’m going to read and enjoy a romance it needs to be slow going – so that was a big plus for me. This book has a rather small cast, and I’m wondering like in the first series if that cast will expand with each subsequent book. It does allow you get to know the characters really well and get behind them and their journey.
The world building is basically the same as the first series but just a little further into the future. The biggest change from the first series is that the spirit of the DFZ is running the show now, and not Algonquin, the spirit of the Great Lakes. Algonquin was an insane water spirit that smashed the original city of Detroit out of anger since they polluted her waters so badly. The spirit of the DFZ took a different approach and started building larger than life skyscrapers – some of which are a quarter mile across at their base. There’s also “a dragon” help running the DFZ known as the Peacemaker. It’s a place where dragons who are feuding and typically would rip each other apart upon crossing paths can sit down and try and come to an agreement. The Empty Wind comes back for a couple brief cameos as well – he was a big part of the last series and is in charge of keeping the souls of the forgotten safe. So, there are tie-ins to the first book. I was hoping for a little more in that department, but who knows, maybe in the next one, I’ll get to see some of my favorite characters again. Or, maybe not, I guess we’ll find out.
This is a really fast paced book, there’s not a lot of side diversions or fluff since this one clocks in at less than 300 pages. It kept the reading light and I got through it in just a few sittings. People looking for quick books that work as palate cleansers should take a look at this one. Like many other Aaron books, the main character was very moral, worried about ethics, and was overall a good person. It’s a running theme in her books for characters to try and talk it out rather than kill everything that moves and ask questions later.
I really liked the audiobook for this one, at first I was a little disappointed it wasn’t Vikas Adam, but it wouldn’t make sense since this was a single pov from the viewpoint of a 26 year old woman. Emily Woo Zeller did a great job with it and I definitely recommend it to people fond of audios. I will definitely be continuing on with the rest of this series.
- urban fantasy
- lots of magic
- quick books – less than 300 pages
- female main character
- AI characters
- slow burn romance
- Plot: 12.5/15
- Characters: 12.5/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12.5/15
- Pacing: 13.5/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8/10