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WesternSFA


Unnatural Magic
by C.M. Waggoner
ACE Books; 390 pp.; $16
Published: November 2019

 A tremendous debut novel from Waggoner: earthy, snarky, and very satisfying.

Onna Gebowa has magical talent. A ton of it. She might take down notes while learning new parameters (spells), but most spells and constructs she can develop mentally. Of course, the magical school near her doesn’t take on too many women, especially one as talented as she. Might make the boys look bad.

So, it’s off to the island of Hexos she goes, the home of the Lord Mage of all the lands and where she will have no difficulty applying for wizard schooling. There’s a very unexpected surprise when she is accepted: she finds herself unexpectedly apprenticed to the Lord Mage himself.

Now, among the humans of these lands are the very magically gifted trolls. Trolls are large and blue, are capable of superior magic, and create awesome embroidery. They, and humans live well enough together. But one day, a troll child is murdered and the human denizens of Coldstream village are slaughtered in retaliation. Suddenly relations between the trolls and humans go down the toilet.  The human soldiers sent to figure out what happened in Coldstream are appalled at the carnage, and are grimly determined to track down those responsible.  But the soldiers are nothing to six, determined, rampaging trolls and they decimate these humans as well.

One of the soldiers, Phillim Kail Jeckran is injured in the retreat and collapses in the snow. He’s found by Cynallumwyntsira, a troll. Tsira.  She saves his life, not having been a part of the raid.

Tsira is the most interesting character in this collection of great individuals. Very terse in speaking, uses the f-word liberally, loaded with common sense, practical and skilled. They hole-up in a cave while Jeckran recovers from his injuries. And as they avoid humans still hunting the trolls, the two become very close. Waggoner develops slowly and surely a deep attraction between these two as they work to determine who murdered the child. As the two follow leads, more trolls are slaughtered.

Onna and the Lord Mage of Hexos, Loga, flamboyant, decadent and very smart are working from the formal end, investigating, with the help of inspectors, detectives, and soldiers. Troll murders are proliferating in Hexos as well.

The story swings between these two sets of characters as they get deeper involved in tracking down clues and trying to uncover who’s behind these heinous, gruesome murders. The victims are eviscerated with surgical precision and Onna is beginning to think it is a close friend of Loga’s.

 But Onna’s life isn’t all grim crime. She’s a young village lass on her own for the first time in a big city, and Loga has a very active social life. She finds herself dressed-up and going to lavish social events with him, meeting his fascinating friends. But even here, Onna picks up clues.

Waggoner develops the mystery, the clues and the red herrings with great finesse.  The world she has created is so richly described and entertaining. It’s refreshing to have a troll be the heroine and her human partner/lover the one who is romantic and brave while Tsira is the muscle and no-nonsense...but she’s still affectionate and emotional.

The story is brought to an excellent conclusion. Will there be more in this world? I certainly hope so.

This is a really a terrific debut novel. Don’t miss it. ~~ Sue Martin

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