We return once more to the Women of the Otherworld in Paige Winterbourne’s second story. It’s time for some Industrial Magic, by Kelley Armstrong.
The Women of the Otherworld return in this follow-up to “Dime Store Magic,” now available in a Special Value-priced edition. Haunted by a dark legacy, Paige Winterbourne is put to the ultimate test as she fights to save innocents from the most insidious evil of all.
Right from the get-go, Industrial Magic hits a better stride than its predecessor. Whereas Dime Store Magic was bogged down by an opening mired in the mundane world, this story doesn’t waste time getting to the conflict: someone’s killing Cabal members, and it’s going to be up to Paige and Cortez to find and stop them. There is some initial discussion about them turning down the case, and cue eye-roll because nobody is naive enough to believe the protagonists would actually walk away from what is clearly the main plot of the book, but fortunately the murders come at a fast enough pace that this fake tension isn’t dragged out for an unreasonable amount of time (unlike Dime Store Magic, where Paige was refusing Cortez’s help even when she was under arrest because she allegedly hated him that much, despite it already being obvious to the reader that they were going to become a couple).
The main focus of the novel is on Paige and Cortez’s investigation, and it’s done well: fast-paced enough to keep interest, but enough diversions and false leads to avoid the conclusion becoming too obvious too soon. I especially enjoyed the return of Cassandra the vampire, whose disinterest and self-centeredness made her an excellent comedic foil for Paige during the investigation. It’s also nice to finally meet Eve, who we previously only heard about from other characters with very biased views of her, and get a sense of what she’s actually like. On the downside, though, Savannah is pretty much pushed to the sidelines. It makes sense, in terms of the story – she perfectly fits the profile of the type of victims the killer is targeting, so it’d be frankly irresponsible to bring her straight into harm’s way – but I nonetheless feel her absence. Every badass female magic-user in an urban fantasy novel series is required by law to adopt the first adorable orphan girl they come across: Julie from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Mia from the OSI series by Jes Battis; the list goes on. It’s because aliens made them do it. By which I mean the movie, Aliens; whenever a writer is struggling with how to make a female protagonist totally badass and yet still in touch with her femininity, their mind immediately goes to Ripley and Newt and the “Get away from her, you bitch!” scene.
The book also lays more groundwork for the future of the Women of the Otherworld series by introducing the ghost world inhabited by the spirits of the departed. Just as Stolen expanded the boundaries of the series from just stories about werewolves to stories about all sorts of other supernatural races, this book introduces an entire additional world and potential cast of characters. I’ll confess to a certain amount of trepidation when a story introduces travel to and from the afterlife, since it runs the risk of trivializing death (I say this as someone who watched far more episodes of Dragonball Z than is healthy) and can raise certain logical questions about what the stakes are for characters who are already dead (the Sandman Slim series, due to having Hell as a major setting, was compelled to introduce a double-Hell for people who die while already in Hell). But it was handled well enough in this book, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for the future.
The book is not without flaw, though; most notably, the pacing has a bit of hiccup near the end. When Paige and Cortez fall through the portal to the afterlife while fighting the murderer and have to cut a bargain with the Fates for a way back home, that feels like the climax. With the following chapter as denouement to wrap up all the loose ends, it honestly feels like the story’s complete and the book could end there. Then it turns out the villain didn’t fall through the portal after all, and they have to devote a few more chapters to defeating him for a second time. Not that those chapters are bad or anything, the final confrontation is suitably well-written and suspenseful, they just don’t feel necessary. Going to the afterlife and having to bargain with the gods for a second chance was already pretty much the most dramatic outcome the fight could have – round two isn’t going to top that.
All in all, Industrial Magic is another strong outing from the Women of the Otherworld, and I feel comfortable recommending it.
Final Rating: 4/5