Warning, Hard Magic is the first in a series of “Paranormal Scene Investigations.” Also, the series is set in Gilman’s Retrievers universe. When I picked up the book, I was not paying attention and now I am hooked on yet another series, maybe two!
The protagonist, Bonita Torres, is straight out of college, unsuccessfully seeking jobs – something which is humorously portrayed in the opening chapter of the book. Bonita is also a Talent (a magic user) and because of this receives a mysterious recruitment offer. Intrigued, she goes to the interview and finds that it is for a position with a newly formed organization called Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations (PUPI).
Bonita and her team are guinea pigs, creating from the ground up a new field of criminal investigation – magical forensics – as they work to solve their very first case involving well-connected, high-profile suicides that aren’t what they seem to be. All of Bonita’s fellow puppies (a play on PUPI) have unique talents and bring different strengths to the investigation. Gilman deftly creates a sense of camaraderie and competition that feels authentic for a team that is well-blended yet unseasoned. The training sequences explain unfamiliar activities, forestalling any dampening of dramatic tension during action sequences.
As well, the team is challenged but does not have to fight off some crazy crisis - as is often the case with urban fantasy - which furthers the reader’s suspension of disbelief. There is nothing that will make one ask, “What the heck?” while getting to know the world in which the characters live. This is especially great for readers who have not previously read any of the Retrievers stories.
Those who like a lot of romance mixed in with the paranormal may be a little put off. Gilman does introduce at least two potential romantic interests for her main character, Bonita Torres, but keeps relationship material to a simmering minimum. There is no Happily Ever After (HEA) to be found in this novel. This is a positive for what Gilman seems to want to do, explore the founding of a magical CSI-type unit. With no HEA in sight, focus stays on the police procedural elements of the story.
Gilman’s characterization is well-rounded and the action moves along quickly enough that I never got bored by the fact that this is yet another occult detective story. I would recommend it to readers who like the Walker Papers by C.E. Murphy or the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
The second book in the series, Pack of Lies, has been released. Both titles can be found at the library and you can reserve a copy by clicking here.