Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Gutter Mage


Gutter Mage is an engaging debut noir mystery/fantasy mashup by J.S. Kelley. Released 21 Sept 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery/Saga imprint, it's 336 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is one of my better speculative fiction genre picks so far this year. There's so much to like here. The protagonist is a smart but flawed outsider who happens to also be a fire-wielding mage, intelligent, (mostly) loyal, operating within her own moral code. It's got shades of a buddy-cop adventure with her best friend, a brawny fighter with a big sword and bigger muscles who's always there to back her up. They're trying to stave off a local mage guild and prevent them from unleashing the apocalypse in the company of her ex, an uptight sort-of-cleric who's on the inter-guild council. The world building is superlative, immersive and plausible. There are lots of philosophical questions to ponder and the writing is really really good. The dialogue is rapid fire and sarcastic (but not annoyingly so). There were several places during the read which actually surprised a laugh out of me.

There is some graphic violence (she's a *fire* mage and can't always control her flames and random people just keep attacking her), as well as some light sexual content. Main character Roz is bisexual and I liked that it wasn't a big deal in the text. Sensitive readers should be aware there are some content concerns: non-consensual imprisonment, body horror, discussions of infant loss and maternal mutilation, possession, smoking, alcohol abuse, and mental health issues. All those aside (and they're all in context), this is a genuinely funny book and extremely well written.

Five stars. I really really want to know what's next for Roz and co. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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