Allison Beckstrom knows well the first rule of magic: “When you use magic, it uses you back.” Every spell you cast or glyph you shape exacts a price from you, usually in some form of pain, be it a headache, a cramp, or a cold. In Allie’s case, she sometimes also loses pieces of her memory. The bigger the magic, the bigger the pain. Some magic users don’t want to pay that price, so they Offload it, put it on someone innocent in order to avoid the pain themselves. Then it’s up to people like Allie to bring them to justice, using a technique called Hounding.
With the help of magic Allie increases her five senses, allowing her to track the taste and smell of a particular spell or magic user. As a Hound she ends up in some very dangerous situations, but this is one woman who won’t let pain or peril stop her. Not only is she dedicated to preventing the misuse of magic, she’s also got something to prove, specifically to her CEO father, Daniel Beckstrom. As the inventor of the system that allows magic to be used like any other natural resource, her father has become a wealthy and powerful man. But he’s a man with seemingly no conscience, capable of Offloading spell prices onto others without blinking an eye, used to ordering Allie around and making her do what he wants.
This is book is very well set up. The magic system is interesting and unique, allowing us to imagine what the world would be like if we could turn magic on with a switch, the same way we turn on the lights in a room. Easily accessible, and free to use, at least in monetary costs. Tying magic to a price you must pay in pain leads to interesting moral dilemmas, such as how much pain are you willing to pay to use the spells you want? What if you could make someone else pay for you, whether they wanted to or not? These are old questions dressed up in a new package, and the results are very exciting.
Allie Beckstrom is a young woman with some issues. She’s got daddy issues, and poor little rich girl issues and love life issues. On top of all that, she has to keep a journal just in case magic makes her pay part of her memories. But her sheer determination to do things her own way and in her own time makes her a compelling character. Allie is not a physical fighter; she must use her knowledge of magic and her deductive skills to solve the cases she takes on. Of course, there still manages to be lots of action scenes in this book.
The rest of the characters are fascinating in their own right. When she meets a man named Zayvion Jones, Allie first thinks she cannot trust him. But as he goes out of his way to help her over and over, he starts developing as a character and as something more for Allie. He’s also a character of color, although which non-white nationality he comes from isn’t explicitly stated. Allie’s best friend Nora is also a complex woman. She chooses to live away from magic, out in the country where the power systems for magic haven’t reached yet. She and Allie are closer than sisters in some ways, and she’s a constant steadying force in Allie’s life.
Overall, this book honestly kicks ass. Magic to the Bone has a unique system of magic, an interesting and sometimes very flawed heroine, and a great cast of supporting characters. Devon Monk has done a great job of making herself stand out in the extremely popular Urban Fantasy genre. If you like smart, funny, and dangerous heroines, read this book. I’m very much interested to see how Allison Beckstrom will develop as the series progresses.