Rachel Aaron has become one of my go-to authors when I need a pick-me-up. She has such an uncanny knack of writing stories that are just so effortlessly engaging, immensely enjoyable and just plain fun.
Minimum Wage Magic is the start of a new series taking place in the DFZ, a huge metropolis setting first introduced in her self-published Heartstrikers series – my current favourite urban fantasy of all-time. In Heartstrikers, the author’s characterisation was possibly the best part of the storytelling. Couple that with the most interesting worldbuilding in urban fantasy that I’ve come across, and you will get an addictively fun ride with great characters that you either want to root for. Or alternately, strangle with your bare hands.
In this new book, we are introduced to Opal Yong-Ae, a young Korean woman who is a freelance mage working as a Cleaner. This means that she bids for contracts to clean out abandoned apartments and profit from the sale of any valuable items found within. Down on her luck with all her recent deals, Opal is running out of money and has a debt coming due very soon to a formidable and dangerous individual. When her latest apartment only availed a dead body and a potentially lucrative secret, she followed her instincts in a desperate attempt to seek out the ‘hidden treasure’.
Even though this is a fairly short and fast-paced book, I feel that I’ve known Opal quite well by the end of the story. Written in the first-person perspective, Opal’s character is well-fleshed out and developed as the narrative gradually teased out her backstory. Stubborn, reckless, and determined, her personality is the sum of her unusual past. While I found Opal likeable and quite funny at times, the character that I found most compelling was a supporting one, Nikolas Kos. Ruthless but with hidden depths and sensitivity, I love characters who appear morally grey but is deep, deep underneath a pretty decent guy. His is a backstory which I am dying to find out.
The worldbuilding of the DFZ post-Heartstrikers does remind me a bit of what Sanderson is doing with Scadrial post-Mistborn. Coming from an obsessed fan of Sanderson, this is a compliment. Twenty years have passed since the epic and climactic event in Last Dragon Standing, the conclusion of the Heartstrikers. Instead of taking the tricky path of extending the stories of the characters in Heartstrikers, their presence in the narrative only comes in the form of references of past deeds, and by titles instead of names.
The continuity and progression from the after-effects of Heartstrikers are executed excellently in my opinion. The manner in which human technology has continued to advance after the return of magic seem fitting and natural. It is like a futuristic science-fiction fantasy. The DFZ is also portrayed in vivid descriptions of the fascinating and chaotic vertical metropolis; from the dense slumlike Underground to the dizzyingly modern Skyways. As much as I would like to talk about the unique aspects of the DFZ, some of these may be considered spoilerific for those who have not finished Heartstrikers.
In conclusion, I love what Rachel Aaron has done with this novel to expand her stories within this unique world of her creation. I have developed a trust in her ability to write engaging stories of great characters which I feel most comfortable and eager to spend time with, and this book is no exception.
Review originally written on 28 October 2018.