I've liked Bruce Davis for years, because he's a gentlemen to sell books beside at conventions; and he's a level headed debater and a fascinating panelist who can speak on varied topics. I've liked him all the more since I read 'Platinum Magic', the first book in his 'Magic Law' series, which I reviewed at the Nameless Zine last year.
This is the second and it does much the same thing; throwing the lead characters from that book, if they're still alive, into a new case that's just as high-reaching and just as important. It cuts down a little on the worldbuilding, having established a general history as background, and it cuts down a little on the science too, now that we have a grasp on the fact that there are rules that govern the use of magic in this world in place of, say, electricity. There's also no further connection to our own world, which was an intriguing little moment in the first book but seems to be left as that.
While it would seem to be a good idea to read 'Platinum Magic' first, to gain from its snippets of worldbuilding and science and its introduction of the central cast, I don't feel like it's necessary as this ought to work well as a standalone. You could start here and easily grasp all you need to take you through the novel.
Our protagonist, once again, is Simon Buckley, a capable and honest King's Agent (translation: cop) in the multi-species city of Cymbeline, though his team has changed since the prior book. Haldron Stonebender, a dwarf, is still his sidekick and mentor. Liam Aster, the human fire mage was new last time out but is now settled. The new fish this time is Kermal Brackenville, a half orc. While she isn't part of the team proper, I should also mention Simon's girlfriend, Sylvie Graystorm, an elf working as a Gray Ranger (translation: cop) in the neighbouring Havens, because she joins them for quite a while this time out, too.
The spark for this case is the discovery of four dead orc children in the Hollows, one of the roughest parts of Cymbeline and the one with the highest orc population, many of them Azeri refugees from the south. It's the sort of crime that might go unreported and/or under-investigated, except that it features a ritual element. Magic was done here, blood magic, and that brings it to the attention of Buckley. Suffice it to say that it expands from there in many different directions, each of which has a particular resonance in this world.
Anything that directly affects the orcs is a political football, as they occupy the lowest rung of the ladder in the Commonwealth; even though each of the species has supposedly equal stature after the Accords. Davis does explore racism here, including within Buckley's team though it's dealt with easier there, but he explores more orc culture, which is fascinating and likely to become more so in future books, given how certain characters fit within that culture. In particular, the Hollows has an awkward balance of underworld power and that's shaken massively during this book, enough that we know it's not going to be remotely the same next time out.
Anything that incriminates the elves is a political football too, as their society is long established and relatively rigid, with a firm respect for status and position, whether it's earned or not. It may be fair to mention here that Sylvie comes from a noble line, her father seated on the Council, but she's incurred the wrath of the family for working in law enforcement and she's given up all rights to her title.
It's not difficult to see the humans of the Commonwealth as Americans, with orcs representing an ethnic minority, perhaps African or Italian Americans, and the elves representing the British. I'm not sure how the dwarves fit into that overly simplified translation, as they feel more Viking than Native American. Of course, Davis probably never meant for us to attempt to pigeonhole like this and may not have set these species in these particular places in his world with any such translation in mind.
And, of course, anything that might cast a bad light on the Peacekeepers, this world's equivalent of the boys-in-blue, is a political football as well; and a touchy one given the events of the previous book. Of course, Buckley makes slow and steady progress in figuring out what these four dead orc children represent, for what the blood magic was performed and to where the path that opens up is going to lead, but this case isn't a straight line. Things happen in reaction to his discoveries and those grow in importance as the story runs on.
It doesn't help that Princess Rebeka Fangbern, only daughter of King Thorsten Fangbern, seems to be a regular at Lily's Place too, the pub outside which the four bodies were found. She isn't under any suspicion for the crime, but there has to be a reason why she's in the Hollows and that's not at all obvious. The only thing obvious is that someone of her stature showing up in the story (and the Hollows generally) is going to generate some serious ramifications and, sure enough, it does.
I liked this a lot. This world was new to me, and all readers, in 'Platinum Magic', but it felt vibrant, fleshed-out and unusual. My initial thought was that it ought to be adapted into a TV show, which may be a common response to many books by many readers but rarely is from me. Television loves cop shows and the more unusual their settings, the better they seem to do. This would seem to be an unusual setting indeed but not an unprecedented one, given Netflix's Bright. The ideas in that were great but the writing wasn't as good as it is here. Davis may have come to this as a writer of science fiction, but he's a natural for cop dramas too.
Having devoured a second book in the series, I'm still on board with a TV version, but it's fair to say that these books ought to occupy a season each. Davis isn't interested in just churning out another case per book with his characters static in the foreground. Each of them has their own journey and that means that the make-up of the central cast is going to change more frequently than TV tends to prefer. Also, with a book a season, he'll have time to write new books rapidly enough to not find himself lagging behind production schedules. After all, these only run 250 pages or so, as much as he manages to fit into them.
Now, how long do I have to wait for book three? ~~ Hal C F Astell
For more titles by Bruce Davis please click here