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Hard Magic

Hard Magic - Laura Anne Gilman There was a lot that just didn't do it for me in this book, but I'm giving it two stars anyway. Why? Because I think that my main issue with this book was the main character.

Pretty much every other important character in the book is more interesting than Bonita Torres. Superficially, Bonnie is a lot of things: (A) product of Council (association of magic users) upbringing and freejack (independent magic users) parentage, (B)amateur detective who investigated her father's murder, (C) recent college graduate looking for a job... and yet none of these things seem to have a serious impact on the story. Her background is told rather than shown (as is most of the story), and her mixed magical background (A) and independent investigation into her father's murder (B), which could have made an interesting story by itself, are throwaway facts that help her circumvent (C) when out of nowhere she is offered a job she didn't apply for. Would that we were all so lucky.

A lot of Bonnie's traits seem superficial. She should be interesting, but she just falls flat and frankly I felt a bit deceived about some of her self-descriptions. It was as if she was meant to have this variety of traits without actually adhering to them. She is half-Latina... with natural honey blonde hair. Fine, I'll accept that although I suspect that would be somewhat rare/unlikely. She is bisexual, but spends nearly the entire book drooling over men (which will be its own discussion in a moment). Yes, she checks out Sharon, but after accepting that Sharon isn't interested, gives it up quickly, unlike her interest in the men. She is worried about money even as she lives in a nice hotel room paid for by her apparently ungodly rich mentor/father figure. Sure, she wants to make it on her own, but given the golden safety net she's got under her, her job search woes sound like so much angst and don't give much sense of urgency. Nothing about her carries much weight or meaning.

Speaking of her job woes, though, she would probably have more luck acquiring and maintaining a career if she didn't date both clients and suspects. She is very firm about not wanting to date coworkers because of the potential trouble involved, but she constantly drools over one of her two bosses, she goes on a date with their first and only client's son, and she goes on a date with the main suspect right after she questions him. I suspect that that author was trying to make it clear that Bonnie is a sexually mature and independent woman, but the character just comes off like both an unprofessional idiot and an overly hormonal teenager. I was almost embarrassed for her in some of the scenes with her boss; that wasn't sexual tension as I've seen other reviewers describe it, it was an exercise in juvenile humiliation. Zoinks. If the descriptions of Bonnie's lustful nonsense were cut out, the book would probably be a couple dozen pages shorter.

Also, I don't care what she is wearing. It is not necessary to describe the full details of every outfit unless it is relevant to the story, which it usually wasn't.

Even with all of Bonnie's diversity failure and foolishness, the book does have things going for it. Pretty much every character other than Bonnie seemed more interesting than Bonnie herself. Her mentor Joseph is a high-powered magical lawyer with a seat on the Council. One of her bosses left Chicago after seriously shaking up the Council over something we are never told details about, and he and her other boss (the one she can't stop drooling over) can work tandem magic, which apparently pretty rare but which, again, we don't get to hear much about. One of her coworkers is on parole, which we find out in a single line and never hear about again. Another coworker (the truthteller! surely significant!) is hauling whiskey to work, but it isn't explored further. One is a gifted magical hacker in a world where magic fries electronics pretty easily. The last one is a former star football player. Come on! So much to work with here, but nothing is really explored or even thought about by our protagonist, who has much more important lusting over inappropriate targets to do.

The premise of the main plot is excellent. Magical CSI! What more can you say? The name of their team is cutesy and regrettable (PUPI? Seriously? I think that one of the two bosses should have been snickering over that one.) but their approach to magic, which amazingly no one in the entire magical community has ever tried to do before, is very cool. The author presents a number of potentially interesting side plots that I would have liked to see explored. The case they are working on is sort-of solved... they learn who ordered the murders but do not (or seemingly attempt to) track down the actual (hired) killer.

I'm guessing that the loose ends are there because this is the first of a series, but there really needed to more more meat and less filling in this volume. This book retails for $14.95 in the U.S., and at that price I don't think it's too much to ask for a complete story, which I don't think this book is. I could honestly imagine all or most of my complaints being addressed and/or made plot points of in future books, and I'm just barely interested enough to maybe -maybe- read the second book to see if anything pans out, which is the only reason I gave it two stars instead of one. I won't go out of my way for it, though.