Magic to the Bone is the first book in Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series of urban fantasy. I think this series is now finished and Monk has moved on to a new one featuring a spin-off character. I came to the party late, but I’m glad I have all the Beckstrom books ahead of me, because I really enjoyed this one.
Monk lets us know in the first paragraph that her characters inhabit a world that functions much as ours does, and yet differently.
It was the morning of my twenty-fifth birthday, and all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee, a hot breakfast, and a couple of hours away from the stink of used magic that seeped through the walls of my apartment every time it rained.
Allie is nearly six feet tall, breath-takingly beautiful, brilliantly snarky. She could be irritating (and often she is irritating) except that Monk has her hobbling around in pain, usually in the rain, for much of the book. In Allie’s world, when a person uses magic, magic uses them back, bringing bruising, headaches, memory loss, and in extreme cases even madness. Most magical practitioners like Allie create Disbursement spells, parceling out the pain to come on later; a sore throat for a few days, for example. Some shift or “offload” the pain to another, and this is illegal. Allie has the ability to recognize magical signatures of those who have offloaded the magic consequences onto another. In Magic to the Bone, Allie is called to look at a little boy who has been used that way, and recognizes the magical signature as that of her father. This puts her on a journey that brings both emotional devastation and the threat of death.
I like Monk’s magical system. Magic is an energy form like electricity, and was only “discovered” thirty years ago. It can be harvested by tapping the wild storms that happen high in the atmosphere, or in rarer cases from the earth. It can be stored and held in glass and metal cisterns. Allie’s father holds the patents to the collecting rods and the storage equipment. There are magical “dead zones,” places where no magic is stored, and so far there is no easy way to make magic portable. Zayvion Jones, the handsome and mysterious man who keeps crossing Allie’s path, strongly implies that magic has, in fact, been around and in use a lot longer, but only to a few. Allie’s own gifts, as she begins to uncover them, lead her question what she has always been taught about magic.
Monk alternates a first-person point of view with a third-person POV from Cody, a young man. When we meet Cody, he is in some bad circumstances, which soon get worse. Cody is connected to Allie is some way, as is Zayvion. The secondary characters, Zayvion, Mama, and Allie’s non-magical friend Nola, are distinctive and lively.
The sex is steamy, but the magical problems take center stage, putting this book firmly in the urban fantasy category. Allie fluctuates between being independent and prickly, and falling into Zayvion’s arms without a thought, but this behavior is explained. She struggles with memory loss, a side effect of the magic, but she also developed a hard shell to defend against her father’s pressure, both overt and magical, to control her life. I thought the memory loss was a little inconsistent, frankly, but I think Monk will smooth this out as the series continues.
Allie also has a couple of speech quirks that set my teeth on edge, but overall she is a vivid character and the book moves pretty quickly. This is an interesting universe and a fascinating magical system. Allie has strong allies, but a lot is arrayed against her — and with her memory issues, there are risks she doesn’t remember and assets that are temporarily beyond her reach. Magic to the Bone was a fun read and I can’t wait to track down the rest.