Slate Blackthorn is a helsing, trained warrior and member of one of the gypsy families tasked by the dragongods to keep the monsters, and particularly vampires, at bay. Sent to a mysterious fortune teller in the city, he discovers his mission and a whole lot more besides. His primary objective: become part of the mage team hoping to protect a powerful magical item from a necromancer determined to open the doors to the underworld. Simple enough, except one of his new company is a vampire and another is a traitor. Perhaps one and the same. Either way, time’s running out and he’s got to discover who he can trust before Earth is drowned by a tide of demons.
The most immediate problem with this book is that the main character is an arrogant arsehole. Rude. Conceited. Ignorant. Prejudiced. Clearly indoctrinated by his mentor, Dagger. And you’re thinking that he best be on some kind of serious personal development journey in this book and that it needs to start pretty damn quickly, or you’re out. Thankfully, it’s only his odious personality that makes you want to put the book down, the writing is sharp, with an intriguing premise to the plot and a detail rich background that differs from anything I’ve read. Most importantly, he has a monkey familiar. Ding, ding- we have a winner. Helsings all have their own and while most of them are ferocious beasts, Slate has a monkey called Harps. Now this told me two things: that I had to read the whole book because there’s little I want more than my own animal familiar, and that the author knew what he was doing. There’s no earthly reason to give a character you’ve set up in this way an itty bitty monkey unless there’s more to him than meets the eye and you plan on unveiling/developing his more appealing characteristics as the story proceeds. And it doesn’t take long to start. Flashbacks fill in some pertinent details, doing a lot to explain his outlook, whilst in the present day the addition of a merry band of new ‘friends’ injects some much needed humour. Just two chapters and I was hooked.
The blurb compares the novel to the Dresden Files and it does have the feel of the early books, a bit pulpy with a lightning pace and an easy-to-read style. That’s not a criticism, the book was fun. Sure, there’s a limited depth here, but there’s real change in some characters as well as space for more to come. Certainly, the heist narrative was an effective choice, allowing for countless nerve-wracking, creative action scenes and more than a little humour. It’s here that the author shows his skill and inventiveness, the crazy mix of magic and tech, used independently as well as in the combined form of magitech, that make this a really different offering. Sorcery clashes with the power of science to create battles which would look amazing on screen, from mind traps to spellbooks, security bots to magtrollers. And the demons of course, never forget them. Each member of the team has their own special niche within the magic/tech framework, but the trust needed to work effectively together grows as the story progresses. Despite the dire situation they find themselves in, it has the feel of a buddy movie, the camaraderie a serious highlight, and even when the darker themes come on to the page, you know they’re there to be overcome. It’s a good time book and that’s no bad thing.
The only issue with this essential goodness was that it contributed to the overall sense of it being a bit too young for me. The book isn’t YA, but it easily could be. Everyone feels immature, with that teenage bravado and over the top banter that tries a bit too hard to score points. There's a tendency to be over dramatic, with far too much declarative emotion, all exclamation points and exaggeration. The conversation is utilised to go over or emphasise info or plot points which are already obvious, while Slate’s internal thought processes veer towards the same issues repeatedly: the unchangeable nature of vampires in particular. I really wanted him to let that go. Coming from a gypsy family should have taught him something about stereotypes and close-mindedness. On top of that, the traitor reveal was no surprise, and necessitated one of those scenes of over explanation to reframe the character. None of this was enough to ruin my enjoyment though, I just prefer things a bit darker.
The Mage Team is urban fantasy with an innovative, fun set up and a whole lot of possibilities for the future. Without doubt, I’ll be reading the next one. It's well worth a try.
Review by Emma Davis
6.5/10 from 1 reviews
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