BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: In Plain Sight

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Title: In Plain Sight (Arcane Casebook 1)

Publisher/Author: Dan Willis

Pages: 272pp

Price: $14.99/$4.99

New York City. The Great Depression. Alex Lockerby is a private investigator and a runewright. Orphaned at a young age, he was trained by Dr. Ignatius Bell, a British naval physician and runewright who emigrated to the United States after the Great War. Alex is a skilled detective, but making a go of it during the Depression is tough. Most of his work comes from the police, who reluctantly call him in as a consultant -- as happens when a magical plague kills everyone at a Catholic mission and thieves make off with a shipment of precious jewels. Alex' life gets even more complicated when the FBI and Sorcha Kincaid (one of the most powerful sorceresses in the country) appear in his office, demanding that he stay out of their way as they hunt for the long-lost Archimedean Monograph. And did I mention the missing runewrights? And the Nazi saboteurs who are planning something nefarious ...?

One of my favorite urban fantasy authors recommended In Plain Sight. After downloading the sample, I immediately purchased the entire book and read it straight through.

In Plain Sight is a heck of a lot of fun. Alex and his supporting cast are engaging, complex characters. Alex himself is tough, smart, and driven to do the right thing; his methods are sometimes less then legal, but he gets results and ultimately is in service of the good. His secretary Leslie is stunningly beautiful, but Alex hired her for her brains and her personality; clients will often open up to her in ways that they won't with him. His best friend Danny Pak is one of the only Asian-American detectives in the New York police department; their friendship means Alex gets called in for jobs, but other officers resent having an outsider on a case -- never mind that Alex has never let them down. And elderly Doctor Bell, who loves Alex like a son and has taught him (almost) everything he knows about runes and being a detective.

The world of In Plain Sight is pure fantasy noir. Many of the advances that we associate with technology have been made, instead, by magic. The city, for example, is magically powered by the Empire Tower. Sorcha Kincaid made a fortune by creating frozen metal disks which are used to cool refrigerators and other devices. Additionally, many of the great inventors of history -- Leonardo daVinci, Rene Descartes, Benjamin Franklin -- were alchemists, runewrights, or sorcerers.

Which brings us to the nature of magic. There are three different schools of magic. Alchemists "[brew] their magic slowly into potions and elixirs" and focus on healing and medicine. Sorcerers and runewrights deal with enchantments -- but, whereas a sorcerer's spells last years, even decades, a runewright's enchantments last only a few seconds to a few minutes. As soon as the rune has burned away, the magic fades away, too. As such, runewrights are generally looked down upon by sorcerers and alchemists.

Mini-complaint: Willis uses the word "rune" to describe complex geometric constructions of ink and powdered metal and gemstones. These are not the runes of Northern Europe. "Sigil" would have been a more appropriate term, so I assume that Willis used "rune" as it would be more familiar to most readers.

In Plain Sight is a terrific first volume. I can't wait for the next adventure. Highly recommended to fans of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the Undercover Gorgon series by RL Naquin, The Lazy Girl's Guide to Magic series by Helen Harper, the Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles by Rebecca Chastain, the Frost Arcana series by Clara Coulson, and the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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