Monday, June 29, 2020

Review: Mel Todd's "My Luck"

For a while now, I've been reviewing Mel Todd's SF series, the Kaylid Chronicles. Before I wrapped up that series, Mel asked if I would be interested in reading her next series, an Urban Fantasy (no romance) called "Twisted Luck" -- book one of which is My Luck. 

I enjoyed her space opera, so of course I was going to want a free book from an author who I already enjoyed.

My Luck's flap copy is as follows.

I'm not a mage, but that won't stop me.
Cori Catastrophe. They call me that sometimes, and I hate to admit it, but it isn’t wrong. Things go weird around me. Electronics die, things break, and if something odd happens, I seem to find it. Finding another dead body just made me late to work.
Nothing will stop me from getting my degree, getting a job, and getting away from this tiny town – though leaving my best friend will hurt more than anything else. Reality seems determined to make reaching my goals impossible. The dead guy had my name in his pocket, my best friend emerges as an archmage, and my parents – well let's just say leaving them behind is one of the best parts of getting away.
So be it. Not being a mage means I'll have to struggle to succeed. No matter how weird things get, I'll make it. I lost my brother and I'll probably lose my best friend to the world of magic. All I can do is depend on myself.
But with my luck, that might be difficult.

Let's start with something simple. This has the best opening routine since "The building was on fire and it wasn't my fault." I hope I don't have to explain that reference. But the opening is a dark comedy routine that I read to anyone who would listen to me.

Once more, Mel Todd excels at world building. As is her style, she opens each chapter with a bit of history and culture around the world. This time, magic has emerged in the world in the late 1800s-- a few years after the Civil War (which, of course, leads to in-world alternate histories of what the Civil War would have looked like if magic had existed a few years earlier). Mel doesn't use it excessively--we hear about the partnership of Rasputin and Lenin, but not a lot about World Wars (okay, FDR is still an a-hole)--and it works just enough to give a flavor of the world.

The real world building comes throughout the story. Our heroine, Cori, is getting her degrees in the most practical certifications she can--EMT, Medical Assistant, and Criminal Law--which also happen to be the best points of view from which to present slices of the world. Within the narration, some of the sections that are obviously data dumps are worthy of David Weber. Then again, one section did start with "most of the bodies I found were rarely stupid or boring." So anything after that will grab your attention.

Again, like in Mel's last series, her world building is either brilliant, or borders on brilliant. In her world, every mage of a certain strength must be trained, and every mage is full-on drafted. She prevents this from having shades of Babylon 5's Psi-Corps by having over half the population be magical--there isn't discrimination against non-mages, but the upper brackets are surprisingly heavy in the magic set.

I especially like the impact on culture. Facial tattoos for mages are part of fashion. The magic system recommends long hair (magic is powered by cellular matter-to-energy conversion of the mage's DNA-- eg: Okay, Winston Churchill was a Time Wizard who kept checking future timelines to win the war, which is why he was bald all the time). There are aspects of law (pay attention to the "Good Samaritan" laws). Diamonds are basis of currency, because freaking alchemists. And I even like that she hints at an origin of magic coming through rips in dimensional planes that make me want to call Doctor Strange.

Though the "Office of Magical Oversight" being established by Lenin? A little creepy.

The execution of Cori and the "bad luck" around her is ... entertaining. The luck that is inflicted upon her and people around her is very Rube Goldberg in nature.

I only have one question. Are the students of George MageTech still considered rambling wrecks?

And I am so, so happy that her description only covers the first third of the book, you have no idea. Though by that point, the reader should be clued in to one of the major aspects of the book that is only hinted at throughout--making the rest of the book interesting to watch, and the reader feels slightly superior to our narrator along the way. Part of what Mel does with this is a trick I've only seen used with Nero Wolfe novels of Rex Stout -- she gives us the answer to a major question of the book ... only the answer comes before the question. The answer is "Ronin."

Also, in Chapter 21, Mel Todd hints at a serial killer, and never capitalizes on it. She did that with a possible shifter serial killer in Kaylid, and does so here too (here, it was a reference to a killer who had happened, and was magical. I'm starting to wonder if these are discarded plot threads at this point.)

Once again, Mel does cops so well, I'm surprised she doesn't do any research for them. They feel very much like cops I've known. Also, some of the situations are analogous.

The comedy is right up my alley. Then again, I laughed out loud when someone asked, "We have a serial killer?" and the immediate reply was "Please. That's an Atlanta Thing. Probably."

Much to my surprise, this entire book is carried by character and world building. And when I say I was surprised, I mean I was 80% of the way through the novel (chapter 34) when I realized that this wasn't what you would call plot heavy. Normally, I'm very dismissive of media that is clearly more of a setup for a series than a standalone ... but this was so well executed, and so self contained, I can't really say anything against it.

And I mean I have nothing against it. Nothing at all. Even the Kaylid Chronicles had errors sprinkled throughout--many were minor, but some just drop-kicked me out of the story. Here? Not a thing. Trust me, I was looking.

But this felt more like the good old days, when Laurell K. Hamilton was good, and could tell a story without turning it into a hundred page orgy. Looking back, this is probably even better than early Anita Blake.

Anyway, five stars, out of five stars. Go buy it.

This one is a little bit too close to the wire for the Dragon Awards. Had it come out earlier so it could get a good head of steam, it would be right up there with best fantasy, neck and neck with Robert Kroese. However, book 2 will be eligible for next year -- it comes out in July. Anyway, while you wait for the book to download, I suggest making certain you've voted in the Dragon Awards this year.

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