Fantasy writer Rachel Aaron has had one hell of a year in publishing. She’s teamed up with her husband Travis to write Forever Fantasy Online (the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels), published Garrison Girl, an original novel set in the Attack on Titan universe, and opened up the year by releasing the fifth and final book in her amazing Heartstrikers series, Last Dragon Standing.
Her newest release, Minimum Wage Magic, returns to the Heartstrikers series main setting, the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ for short) with a new cast of main characters and a DFZ that is the most stable it’s been in a while. Set twenty years after the original series, this novel revolves around Opal Yong-ae, a freelance mage that works as Cleaner in the city, who fumbles her way into a mystery when she finds the dead body of a mage in one of the apartment she’s supposed to be cleaning.
Armed with her (not-so) trusty AI Sylvia and an unlikely ally in Nikola Kos, a fellow Cleaner that winds up teaming up with Opal after he rescues her from people trying to kill her in order to steal the secrets that she found in the mage’s apartment, Opal sets off on an adventure that takes her across the DFZ and to places that we couldn’t have explored with Julius Heartstriker in the previous series.
Opal and Nik have a completely different dynamic than Julius and Marci had in the previous series and that’s one of the things that really works for this new series. It’s fun being dropped into the mind of a mage like Opal who gets what a thaumaturgical mage like Marci is all about, but she prefers a more… unrestrained and indelicate approach to magic. (Her technique tends towards spooling magic inside of her – think like what Marci did in the third Heartstrikers book when she was pulling magic from Julius’s sister Chelsea – and then applying it like a baseball bat or crowbar to whatever her target is.)
And Nik –
Nik isn’t a soft-spoken baby dragon trying to find his own path in the world so well… it’s pretty obvious that he’s nothing like Julius. What Nik is, however, is an unexpectedly kind person with a trustworthy soul and a heavily modded body that’s built like a brick wall. He comes to Opal’s aid after she’s attacked and from then on, they forge a tentative alliance and work together. While I don’t know if I ship them yet, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to ship them as the series progresses because my god Nik is really great but also mysterious).
While I’m definitely here for whatever kind of relationship Aaron is writing between Nik and Opal, what I’m really invested in is the way that Minimum Wage Magic further unfolds the DFZ and the people who live there. Opal is honestly an interesting character to follow along because she’s a broke mage who essentially works as a cross between a repo-man and a janitor. Broke to her bones thanks to her parents – mostly her dad – using money to try and control her and bring her back to Korea, Opal is at a really low point in her life and the desperation in her attempts to get money and save her own skin show an interesting side of the story.
I rooted for Opal the entire time and I genuinely felt like I got her. When she wavered, when she risked doing the wrong thing, I could understand her choices and her fears. And I want to know more about her.
Seriously folks, Minimum Wage Magic is an excellent start to what I just know will be another great series from Rachel Aaron. This is a fun and fast-paced near-future novel with science-fantasy and urban fantasy elements. With a relatable main character, genuinely unexpected twists, intricate worldbuilding that expands upon location and characters in the previous series, and the potential for some serious shenanigans in the DFZ.
I enjoyed this book a whole ton and I think y’all will too!
Content Warnings/Notes: some mild violence, repeated references to possessive and emotionally/financially manipulative parents (less than Heartstrikers momma Bethesda, who is The Worst, but still)
Are There Sex Scenes/Sexual Content?: No
What I Liked Most About It: returning to the DFZ (even though yes, the final Heartstrikers book came out in March), seeing a different side of the DFZ because Opal and Nik walk in completely different circles from Julius and Marci in the Heartstrikers books, people with magical and techy body modifications feature quite heavily in this book and I like body-mods as a cyber punk element, Opal’s reaction to Nik’s gasoline-powered car is HILARIOUS,
What I Could’ve Done Without: the reminder at the beginning of the one thing in the series I’ll die salty about: how Detroit (a city with a historically and majorly Black population) was treated as “one of the greatest polluters” by the spirit Algonquin and pretty much wiped off the map before being replaced with the DFZ (it’s a personal issue I have with the series but clearly not something that stops me from reading it)
Where Y’all Can Buy It: AMAZON
Author’s Website/Social Media: Rachel Aaron @ Twitter | Website
Rating: Highly Recommended