Review: Trancehack by Sonya Clark

Tracehack by Sonya ClarkFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available:  ebook, audiobook
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Dystopian, Science Fiction Romance
Series: Magic Born #1
Length: 231 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: October 28, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

It’s 2065. Those born with magic abilities live in government-run zones, without rights or freedoms. Fear of magic created this segregated world and fear keeps it intact.

A high-profile murder brings Detective Nathan Perez to Magic Born Zone 13. He’s had little experience with the Magic Born and isn’t sure what to expect during his first encounter with a witch, but he never thought he’d be so drawn to her.

Trancehacker Calla Vesper uses magic to break into computers and aid the Magic Born underground. She has no interest in helping a cop, even if he is smoking-hot, but money’s tight and Nate offers a tidy amount for help navigating the Zone. Calla’s determined to keep it all business, but sparks start flying before the investigation even gets started.

When Calla’s trancehacking and Nathan’s investigation uncover a conspiracy, Calla becomes a target. Nate can protect her by keeping her role a secret—but then who will protect Nate?

My Review:

I fell in love with the world created by Sonya Clark in Trancehack to the point where I’m having a difficult time reviewing it because of the sheer number of resonance images it carried for me. Clark’s imagery of the magic users’ ghetto, or FreakTown, borrowed from so many awesome stories and historical settings, even some she didn’t intend, AND added a sweet and white-hot love story like a cherry on top.

Okay, what is this thing, anyway? We have a dystopian society that it turns out human beings mostly made instead of an apocalypse raining down from above.

Even more screwed up, somehow “magic born” started springing up in the population, and then getting segregated into ghettos by mandatory DNA testing. Half a century later, you get the world of Trancehack.

They really are using magic, no joke. Lighting fires, playing with electricity, healing, and some other very interesting talents. But the dystopia comes from the reaction to the people who use the magic.

Religious zealots in the US are the ones who created the anti-magic laws and the ghettos. And guess what? The US became such fanatics that other countries decided not to have much to do with us after that. Even more interesting, US students who studied abroad stopped coming back, so they clamped down on US students studying abroad.

Repressive society much?

It gets worse. All children get tested for the magic DNA. Any found with the gene are automatically taken away from their parents and their records expunged. There is no appeal. Think of what that does not just to the infants who are abandoned inside the magic zones, but also to the young couples who live in fear of having babies with magic and seeing them taken away.

The cost to society as a whole.

Now we have a story. Nathan Perez is a cop who knows he’s a potential scapegoat. An unregistered magic user has just murdered a prominent research physician. There are three very interesting facts about the late Dr. Forbes: 1) he was researching the production of the illegal street drug Nightshade, 2) he was infamous for being responsible for the testing that removed magic-born infants from their parents and 3) he was best-friends with influential Senator John Beckwith, who wants the man’s murder handled quickly and quietly. Oh, and there is no such thing as an unregistered magic-born, so all the crime scene tests must be mistaken.

At least until all the people involved with ever having seen or heard of those “mistaken” tests start turning up dead.

deryni rising by katherine kurtzEscape Rating A: It’s the worldbuilding that made Trancehack so much of a pleasure for me. I kept hearing the echo of Katherine Kurtz’ ancient Deryni crying that “the humans kill what they do not understand” because part of that felt right. The non-Magic Born were afraid of the Magic Born power, so they hemmed it in and legislated it out of sight. They feared what they couldn’t understand so they attempted to control it.

It also reminded me very much of the Mage Towers (for that read Mage Prisons) in Dragon Age: Origins video game world. Again, a world where magic power is feared so much that mages are locked away, in that world by an omnipotent church that takes magic-using children from their parents.

There is also an intentional parallel to the Underground Railroad of U.S history. The Magic-Born may not be slaves, but the restrictions under which they live are designed to make them feel less than human.

Calla Vesper embodies a lot of the conditions under which the Magic-Born live. Not just by being Magic-Born, but by knowing who her birth parents were. She has created someone different, but she is able to visualize exactly what might have been, and so can we.

Nate and Calla’s relationship smacks of Romeo and Juliet, but they are both adults and well aware of the potential consequences. They see the doom going in, they just choose to ignore it for awhile. When doom catches up, they keep running.

And we have the “good cop investigating corrupt society” case in this mix too. Clark keeps a surprising number of plates spinning in the air, and does it in a way that kept this reader enthralled from beginning to end.

Must be magic.

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