by Lucy A. Snyder
Del Rey (2010)
Usually, the women on the covers of urban fantasy novels look flawless, so when I spied the cover to Lucy Snyder's debut novel and saw her lead character, Jessie Shimmer, bandaged and bloodied, that caught my eye. A nice twist on the familiarity that comes with UF book covers. The artist responsible, Dan Don Santos, can take half the credit for making me buy this book. The other half, of course, goes to Lucy with her enticing premise and cool-sounding character, Jessie.
Jessie Shimmer and her boyfriend, Cooper, are living under the radar in Ohio, so to speak. Cooper is an accomplished magician, but kind of on the outs with the council, so he and Jessie make ends meet by performing spells and other enchantments for the locals who are in the know, while Cooper teaches Jessie to tap into her own supernatural abilities. During what should be a routine rain spell to take care of a drought, Cooper gets sucked into a portal, and Jessie is left behind to contend with closing the portal back up--and killing the demon that came through it.
It's when Jessie resolves to go after Cooper and rescue him from whatever dimension he's trapped in that things really go haywire. The council head, Benedict Jordan, comes down heavy on her, forbidding her from trying to save Cooper, and basically puts her black list. Even her closest friends, what few she and her lover have in the magic community, are ordered to deny her help of any kind, which is made all the worse due to her physical scarring from her run-in with the demon. She does have her familiar, an inter-dimensional entity in the body of a ferret named Pal, to help her muddle through her outcast existence.
Jessie is a pretty cool, pretty flawed character. She seems content acting as her lover's sidekick on magic jobs, learning as she goes, then really has to strike out on her own when he disappears. Her world is turned upside-down, not only on an emotional level, but almost literally as she ostensibly becomes a fugitive. The situations she finds herself in are exciting as she muddles her way from place to place and tries to figure out how to save her lover. There are some moments in the book that strained credulity with me, namely the almost instant prowess she attains with each spell she casts. For a system of magic that seems fairly free of exactness--a pinch of this and a dash of that--Jessie manages to avoid creating catastrophe. The deftness she displays in wielding magical spells, learning them on the fly at times, seemed a bit too convenient, even with her burgeoning innate abilities.
Overall, the book runs at a fast clip, and the lulls are tempered with enough humor and hijinks to keep things interesting. Helping a house full of stoners get an enchanted marijuana plant as a way for Jessie to earn some room and board was particularly entertaining--possibly because I went to school with a couple of those characters. Some of the supporting cast are glossed over, but the ones that really matter (namely Cooper and Jessie's familiar, Pal) are fleshed out really well. Pal even narrates a few chapters, while Jessie is incapacitated.
I'm interested to see where the story goes from here in the second book, Shotgun Sorceress, as stakes are set and some characters are irrevocably changed, including Jessie.