Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

Minimum Wage Magic is a book a lot of the Inn was excited for, and it’s a book I really enjoyed.

Set in the Detroit Free Zone, it kicks off a sequel series to the much loved Heartstrikers books. The premise is that a couple decades in the future, magic comes rushing back into our world. Magic is a particularly big deal in the DFZ, the only city on Earth run by its very own goddess. Opal Yong-ae works in the city as a Cleaner: she buys old flats and storage units whose owners haven’t paid their rent, sells the junk (often magical) left behind at a profit, and cleans them up for their next owner. She’s also very, very deeply in debt with a dangerous person and can’t afford to be picky when it comes to jobs. Unfortunately, Opal’s latest buy comes with a corpse and heaps of trouble.

As the first book in a sequel series, Minimum Wage Magic has to pull off a pretty fine balancing act. It’s set roughly 20 years after Last Dragon Standing ended and I think it’s perfectly fine for new readers to jump straight in here. Spoilers for the world-changing events of the past series are unavoidable but vague. There are a couple characters who overlap, but Opal’s perspective on them is very different from the first series’ characters. Their introduction should work well for newcomers, while being highly amusing for those of us who loved the past series. As a fan of Heartstrikers, to be honest I wish we’d gotten even more overlap! At the same time, it’s good that we had a chance to settle in with the new characters and the new DFZ before being overwhelmed with cameos.

The DFZ remains as vivid and exciting a place as ever. It’s a true city of opportunity, boasting both the best magical arts institute in the world as well as gun-selling vending machines. It feels like everybody who lives there has to be a little bit crazy, or at least very passionate, whether about the history of alchemy or about installing enough metal hardware into their body to repel bullets. There are a couple more laws in place than there were 20 years ago: straight-up murder is illegal now, for example. On the other hand, the new goddess of the DFZ likes to move whole city blocks around and sprout skyscrapers out of the earth like trees. Aaron could set any number of adventure stories here in an “expanded” DFZ universe and I’d gobble them all up.

It took me a little while to warm up to the new characters (through little fault of their own — look, I’m a big Heartstrikers fan and I missed my old team). Opal is a great mix of hard and soft. She’s stubborn and fiercely independent, ready to do whatever it takes to protect that independence. She also tries to have a good heart and has an MA in art history. For fans of the first series: I think Opal’s messed-up family relations may give Julius a run for his money. Her new partner Nik keeps his own heart more deeply hidden, and remains more mysterious to Opal and to the reader: old-fashioned in one way (he still drives a gasoline car!) and very modern in another (you won’t believe what he has up his sleeve…). Most of the other characters remain a lot less central for now, but I’m already excited to fall in love with everyone over the next few books.

One final thing I’d like to mention is oh my god the audiobook!! The Heartstrikers audiobooks, narrated by Vikas Adam, were amazing. Lightning has struck twice and the new narrator for Minimum Wage Magic, Emily Woo Zeller, is equally fantastic. For whatever reason, I wasn’t quite clicking with the ebook version, then put on the audio and devoured the whole thing in two days! If you listen to audiobooks at all, definitely check it out.

In short, Minimum Wage Magic is a fun read that I heartily recommend to both old fans and new. Especially for:

  • Urban fantasy fans
  • Audiobook fans
  • Fans of adventure stories
  • Fans of veeery slow-burn romance
  • Fans of magic + advanced technology mixtures
  • Fans of Shadowrun
  • People who really love characters from the Heartstrikers series and are desperate for one more glimpse of them, any glimpse, please

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