Summary: A Murder of Mages marks the debut of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s novels of The Maradaine Constabulary, his second series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine. A Murder of Mages introduces us to this spellbinding port city as seen through the eyes of the people who strive to maintain law and order, the hardworking men and women of the Maradaine Constabulary.
Satrine Rainey—former street rat, ex-spy, mother of two, and wife to a Constabulary Inspector who lies on the edge of death, injured in the line of duty—has been forced to fake her way into the post of Constabulary Inspector to support her family.
Minox Welling is a brilliant, unorthodox Inspector and an Uncircled mage—almost a crime in itself. Nicknamed “the jinx” because of the misfortunes that seem to befall anyone around him, Minox has been partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with either of them.
Their first case together—the ritual murder of a Circled mage— sends Satrine back to the streets she grew up on and brings Minox face-to-face with mage politics he’s desperate to avoid. As the body count rises, Satrine and Minox must race to catch the killer before their own secrets are exposed and they, too, become targets.
Thoughts: While it does make reference to some events from The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages is not exactly a sequel. More accurately, it’s a novel set in the same world, during the events of the first book, but a full standalone story that you don’t need to have read the other book to appreciate. So if you haven’t had a chance to read The Thorn of Dentonhill, not to worry. That being said, if you have read it and enjoyed it, then chances are you’ll find the same level of entertainment in A Murder of Mages.
Satrine Rainey is in a horrible position. Her husband, a Constabulary inspector, has been badly injured and is incapable now of even communicating, let alone working and earning money to support his wife and 2 daughters. Desperate, Satrine fakes qualifications to gain herself a position as an inspector. Her partner, Minox Welling, is a man with magic, Uncircled, and so despised by mages and non-mages alike. On their first day working together, they’re thrown into the middle of what becomes a serial murder case, with the killer targeting mages and killing them in a ritualistic fashion.
The gritty streets of Maradaine aren’t the most comfortable to read about at times. It’s far from a pristine rich fantasy city, with everyone going happily about their lives in comfort. Law enforcement is looked down upon, hated by many in most areas of the city, to the point where even those with no connection to a crime will act antagonistic and refuse to help. Further hampering the investigation is the general hatred of mages; most people are quick to blame mages for any small thing, and are pretty happy to see a few less around. Satrine and Minox are met with opposition on just about every front, which could make for frustrating reading, but Maresca manages to avoid that by keeping the side-stories going during the few lulls in the case. You get to see glimpses into both of their family lives, which are distinct and interesting and add to the development of not only Satrine and Minox themselves, but other characters along the way.
Twice now, Maresca has demonstrated that he’s capable of creating a not-so-generic fantasy world, using only a few elements that most people would consider fantasy tropes and using them as a frame for a larger story, rather than trying to make the story all about how unique the world is. Personally, I think it works better this way. Characters are products of their world, absolutely, but they manage to be memorable and unique by their actions, not because the world they live in is spectacularly different from every single other fantasy world you may read about. It’s a good balance of the familiar and the new, which more and more I enjoy seeing in SFF novels.
The pace of this novel is tight and fast, making it an easy story to sink into with plenty to keep readers engaged and curious. It’s not utterly relentless, but it does keep the plot moving along quickly and smoothly, and with the interchanging perspectives of Minox and Satrine, there’s plenty of interest on the pages.
Speaking of interest, it’s worth noting that there’s no romantic subplot between Satrine and Minox, which I was very happy about. Minox is single but doesn’t appear to be looking for a romantic partner. Satrine’s husband may be largely unresponsive to any stimuli, but she’s devoted to him and isn’t on the lookout for a new partner either. I have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelves for novels in which a man and a woman can work together without getting romantic or sexual, and A Murder of Mages definitely occupies a spot.
Maresca’s novels are certainly getting attention from fantasy readers, and I’d say it’s well-deserved. Quick reads, good action, and just generally very fun books to have around. I’m already a fan of both branches of Maradaine novels, and I’m looking forward to what new fun stories he’ll tell in that world in the future.
(Received for review from the publisher.)