Monday, January 24, 2011

Magic at the Gate: A Review

Magic at the Gate
by Devon Monk

This is the fifth book in Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom series. Monk's created a rich fantasy/sci-fi environment that only gets better as each new book comes out. I'll be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the first book in this series but it was enough to get me to try the next one - and this writer just gets better with time.

Allie Beckstrom is a magic user in Monk's version of Portland. In monk's world magic is available to people - but only for a price. Everytime someone uses magic it takes some sort of toll on the caster - headaches, colds, etc. The more someone casts the worse the consequent side effects become. The catch is that you can use someone else as a proxy for the side effects. This was a big theme in the early books but in this book it was almost an afterthought as the story has progressed into more complex storylines. The last book left off with Allie following her boyfriend, Zayvion, into death - as in the realm of death, through a gateway. While this was a key part of the story Allie's journey into the realm of death was only the very begining of the book. More of the story focuses on the was between different factions of magic users. The thing I liked about this book was howmuch it showed Allie coming into her own as a member of one of these groups. With Zayvion in a coma for most of the story Allie had to function a lot more on her own with her new allies where previously Zayvion had acted as a kind of buffer.

While the plot is interesting the character developement is really Monk's strong point. She writes characters with a lot of depth - although they are rather surface when you first encounter them. This makes it more believeable as the longer a character is the the story the more you find them to be well thought out characters. The character reveals are natural rather than forced and the relationships between them are never easy but take a lot of work. It'd be easy for Monk to cop out of tension and strife between characters like Allie and Zayvion since she wrote them as magical soul mates but they constantly have to struggle to let their relationship grow.

The major downside of these books is it's hard to pick up the newest novel and get into the story - it was hard enough for me as I hadn't read the previous book in quite a while so didn't remember all the details. Monk puts out these books pretty fast so if you're on top of them when they come out it's like reading one really long story - she is a fan of cliffhanger endings but I can deal with that considering how quickly the books come out. If I was to recommend these to anyone though I'd have to lend them to people in order as they'd be really confused otherwise.

Overall these are enjoyable books. My only complaint is they aren't all that accesible to new readers. Devon Monk writes really fun books (and has a cool name too!) and I'd encourage people to pick up the first Allie Beckstrom book and give the series a try! The next book in the series comes out in just a few months. Check out Monk's website here for book excerpts (also the knitting gallerly is pretty cool).


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