For people who like to see what the world would be like if it had magic in it, then the world of urban fantasy is like candy or chocolate or socks (with Star Trek patterns, of course). Within the world of urban fantasy, there are always those few stand out series that catch your attention and become the measurement against which all the others stack up. For me, one of those series is the Broken Throne series by Jamie Davis.
The world is thus: there are magic users called Chanters living amongst us. They make charmed objects such as the hammer that never misses, the blender that makes perfect cake batter. Then there are those that work in the Sable trade, magic that directly affects humans. No matter what type of Chanter a person is, though, things are about to get difficult. New laws are being passed to control Chanters and—hopefully—prevent another ecological disaster like what was left of Europe. Enter Winnie Durham, a seemingly average Chanter who gets mixed up in black market charm running to make ends meet. She and her friends start working for Artos Merrilyn, a Sable boss in Baltimore. Only, things are always more complicated than they appear. The past is about to get mixed up with the present. Because magic wasn’t always what it is now. And legends aren’t quite as dead as we might think.
This series has adventure, magic, prohibition-style bootleg charm running, a few near-death experiences, black magic, swords, monsters and huge amounts of trouble. There are parallels with early legends and characters I find hugely entertaining. Basically, pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Jamie Davis.
The five books in the series do a good job of escalating things in a natural way. Each book, the stakes get a little bit impossibly higher, until eventually the fate of the world is at hand. I think this is done very well, in a natural way that doesn’t feel as if we were just trying to get to the whole end-of-the-world piece, but just sort of stumbled there through all the other slightly-crazy adventures. The world building is very well done. There is enough connection to reality that most of the technology is familiar and the people are, too. But there is also the added element of magic, which expands and enhances the world in a believable but also rather awesome manner. There are no gaps that draw you out of the story with a “huh” as you try to figure it out. Everything works smoothly and well. Basically, I really liked the world building.
I think it was the characters, though, that really got me. Okay, yes, I liked the main character Winnie Durham a lot. She was pretty awesome and difficult not to like. But… the Sable bosses were definitely higher on my list of characters to like. There was snark, sarcasm, ultimatums, and eventual capitulation to Winnie (because, again, awesome). But that snark and sarcasm remained. Cricket is probably my favourite, simply because he always seems to be rather cheerful despite annoying circumstances. All the characters, though, are well-rounded, possessing of distinct voices, and have their own places in the world. They fit in quite well with the world building.
There were a few points that felt a little strange. Or, rather, they felt a little disjointed in the flow of the series. One was with Winnie and the Sable issue that arose from, well, events involving Danny Barber that I can expound upon no more because of spoilers. For those of you who know, you know what I mean. The Sable issue did not feel like it really resolved itself. Instead, Winnie’s problem simply vanished and she went on being fine. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor issue, but one of those minor issues that niggles just a touch. The other issue was the escalation between book four and book five; things went from really bad to well, we’re snookered bad and the world was pretty badly destroyed as a result. (Not the world building, I mean the actual world of the novel.) The escalation makes sense from a storytelling point of view, but I think the in between could have been focused on a little more.
But, really, those are fairly minor issues and don’t actually detract from the story all that much. No, the real issue is that our author did exactly what he always does and made the ending very, very… I think dramatic is the safest word. Well, yes, the series couldn’t really have ended any other way. And, no, I actually really liked the ending. But why?! There is one thing to have cliffhangers. I expect cliffhangers. I get extremely invested into characters and stories and so have come to look upon cliffhangers with equal dread and cheer. Naturally, all of the individual books in the series had cliffhangers and I curse and praise Jamie Davis for them. This, though, was something entirely different.
It was the perfect ending to the series. And it was so frustrating.
Anyways, if you are in for some highly-entertaining, well-written and thought-out books in the urban fantasy vein, then this is a series I would highly recommend. (Oh, and by the way, the audiobooks are stunning.)
Thanks for the thoughtful and generous review, EG. FYI, Cricket is a favorite of mine as well. If there was to be a TV series made, I picture the Joe Pesci performance from “My Cousin Vinny” in that role.
And, yes, I have to say to you and other readers, I don’t write the endings, the characters do. Winnie had a plan and that’s how it worked out. 🙂