This one was a very pleasant surprise a cold war espionage story with a big dose of magical technology. This is a sequel to “Breach” but the author does such a good job grounding this story that it almost stands alone; you don’t need to have read the first book.
Karen is a magician who, due to the events of the previous book set in Berlin, cannot use her powerful magic anymore; which doesn’t exactly help her on the job with the CIA. She’s contacted by an old friend in Cuba, working for a consumer magic company called Magnus, who asks her to investigate a magical object that is both unusually powerful and could possibly be most evil. Evil isn’t usually a concept associated with wielding magic to most users; but Karen isn’t most and if Berlin taught her anything it was that magic cannot and must not ever be trusted.
Once in Havana, Karen discovers her search for answers may lie with a missing girl but her efforts to find the girl invites the interest of the local mobsters, Soviet spies, and a rebuff from the girl’s own family. The harder they push on Karen, the more determined she is to save the girl and others like her.
Karen’s CIA boss pairs her with Daniel Pierce, a very capable magician but who isn’t, of course, all he appears to be. This is an espionage story, after all. When the two of them learn what the magical box in Karen’s satchel is intended to do, they find it difficult to reconcile the banality of its use with the source of its power. Later, naturally, they discover that the banality of the Magnus creation is intended to disguise how easily it is weaponized. But even with all the ensuing mayhem and danger, Karen finds it impossible to use her magic to protect herself until she’s saved by a mysterious tattooed stranger (what other kind is there?) and advised to trust her own magic. She hasn’t been able to do that since Berlin but the stakes are high enough that she decides she must try. And a Karen in control of her magic isn’t someone anyone should want to cross.
Karen is a fascinating character, fully in the story and in my head. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are as well-drawn. The worldbuilding is minimal; the author draws on the pre-revolution Cuba image but the plot is so much fun. Goodwater is a novice, with only these two books under his belt, but his writing shows a great deal of promise.
There is still plenty of mystery to sustain this series. Karen has a satchel given to her in Berlin by someone she can’t remember full of magical items she can’t access unless she’s willing to use her magic. And she’s being stalked by someone who intends just that to force her to use her magic. And then there’s the missing book…which will, I’m sure, drive the next story. I’m really looking forward to the next installment; Karen is a very engaging character and the plot remains very interesting. ~~ Catherine Book
For other titles by W.L. Goodwater click here