Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Death Before Dragons #1
Published by Lindsay Buroker on February 28th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
I’m Val Thorvald, and I’m an assassin.
When magical bad guys hurt people, I take care of them. Permanently.
This doesn’t make me popular with the rest of the magical community—as you can tell from the numerous break-ins and assassination attempts I’ve endured over the years. But thanks to my half-elven blood, a powerful sword named Chopper, and a telepathic tiger with an attitude, I’ve always been able to handle my problems with aplomb. Maybe some cursing and swearing, too, but definitely aplomb.
That changes when my boss is afflicted with a mysterious disease, a government agent starts investigating me, and a godforsaken dragon shows up in the middle of my latest job.
I’ve taken down vampires, zombies, and ogres, but dragons are way, way more powerful. And it doesn’t look like this one is going to like me.
Worse than that, he wants to use his magic to compel me to do his bidding, as if I’m some weak-minded minion.
That’s not going to happen. I’d die before being some dragon’s slave.
But if I can’t figure out a way to avoid him, save my boss, and get rid of the government spook, I’m screwed. Or dead. Or screwed and dead. And that’s never comfortable.
Pick up Sinister Magic today to see if I make it. Even if you don’t care about me, I promise the tiger is cool.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new urban fantasy series, let alone one that I couldn’t wait to dive into. Once upon a time, urban fantasy and its kissing cousin paranormal romance were everywhere, but now, not so much.
Not that there aren’t plenty of existing series that are still going strong, but new ones starting up aren’t nearly as prevalent as they used to be. And probably will be again, these things go in cycles.
But this book looked like catnip to me – and it certainly was. The first book in a new series by a fave author – and what looked to be a fascinating take on our world with a kickass heroine as combination tour guide (for the reader) and bounty hunter (for the bad guys, for select definitions of both bad and definitely guys.)
And dragons. Or rather one dragon. A dragon shifter at that. And one with a whole lot of self-important, superior asshole attitude that just begs our heroine to poke with a sword and a nasty attitude at every conceivable opportunity.
Once you’ve met “Lord” Zavryd, you’ll completely understand the attitude.
Our heroine is Val, a half-elven bounty hunter. She’s actually a government contractor whose job is to go after the weird and nasty. Or at lest the non-human weird an nasty. Working for the government involves dealing with an entirely different kind of nasty, as Val is reminded when her boss ends up hospitalized and under suspicion of a whole raft of criminal activity that she couldn’t possibly have had a hand in.
Val and that dragon cross paths over the not-yet-dead body of a wyvern who snacked on a bunch of kids. Val wants the animal put down with extreme prejudice and as much firepower as she can bring to bear – which is rather a lot.
Zavryd wants to bring the wyvern back to face the Dragon Justice Court. That wyvern has been a very bad creature in more places than just Earth. In the ensuing scuffle, argument and outright battle over exactly who has jurisdiction in this case, the wyvern gets dead, Val’s Jeep gets tossed into the upper reaches of a tree, and Zavryd decides that Val can pay him back by serving as “bait” for all of the miscreants who have fled justice and settled on Earth.
Even though Val’s combination friend, familiar, service animal and bodyguard, the majestic magical tiger Sindari, warns her not to aggravate the dragon, Val can’t help herself in the face of his smug, superior attitude – and face.
Not even when she needs his help – and a bit of his blood – to save a friend.
Escape Rating A-: I had a hell of a good time with Val – and especially Sindari. I know he’d hate my saying he’s just a big pussycat, but he is a very big pussycat. As well as a great friend and companion to Val, a deadly warrior in his own right, and extremely majestic. Sindari would definitely want me to include the majestic bit.
But there were elements of Sinister Magic I wasn’t necessarily expecting, some terrific, some a bit disconcerting.
I had read that it was kind of a big deal that Val wasn’t the usual 20something heroine. She’s 40 and has the emotional scars to prove it. Just not the physical ones. As a half elf, she heals faster and looks and feels much younger than her actual years and has the strength to go with that. So she’s not nearly as much like Marley Jacob from A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark as I would have liked to see.
But Val’s Seattle and Marley’s have a lot in common. Complete with denizens of the weird, wacky and extraterrestrial, including a giant monster in Puget Sound. The difference is that Marley’s monster is a dragon, where Val’s dragon is trying to kill her monster, in her case a kraken.
The urban fantasy world and hero that Val really reminds me of is Kai Gracen. Kai is also half-elven, also finds it blessing and curse in equal measure, is also a bounty hunter, and his world has a similar mixture of the magical, the monstrous and the mundane that Val’s does. So if you like Val you’ll probably like Kai as well.
They both also deal in a similar line of unrepentant snark. The difference is that Kai’s is more self-reflective, where Val’s snarkitude draws directly on contemporary pop culture in ways that bring a smile or a groan to the reader, as well as a huff of disgust from that dragon. He knows she’s backtalking him even when he doesn’t get the context.
As far as the story goes, this one is a wild ride from beginning to end, even though it does have to let up on the frenetic pace when it deals with the worldbuilding and Val’s backstory. In spite of this being an alternate version of the contemporary Pacific Northwest, it still take a fair amount of setup to get everything and everyone up to speed. This is all necessary to get the series off the ground, but something it does feel like it slows things down a bit too much.
That being said, I like Val, and I was easily able to feel for where she was coming from on an emotional level, even though suppressing her emotions is the thing causing all the current stress in Val’s life. I’m not completely on board with Val’s sudden onset of asthma, not that it couldn’t happen, but that it seems psychosomatic – if it doesn’t turn out to be magic-induced – and just seemed to be a way to make her more physically vulnerable without really making her vulnerable.
And then there’s that dragon. At this point, I’m kind of hoping that this is not being set up as an eventual romance. Although if it is the author is going to have to do a ton of heavy lifting to turn Zavryd into a character who could really be Val’s romantic partner. Not that he isn’t tall, dark and sexy when he’s not being a dragon, but because at the moment he sees all non-dragons as vermin to be ignored or eradicated. That’s a hell of a lousy place from which to start a relationship. So if it happens I hope it’s not until a whole lot of water has passed under that particular bridge.
But I’m all in for this series. I like Val and her world, I found her government boss to be a great person, and the government shenanigans provided both comic relief and pathos as the Men in Black turn out to be completely incompetent while Val finds a miracle cure for magically-induced cancer. I want to see how the rest of the world shakes out in this variation of it.
So I’m looking forward to reading Battle Bond the minute it becomes available later this month!