The first book in the urban fantasy DFZ series.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 45 minutes
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Opal Yong-ae has a Master’s in magical art history. She’s also a mage, even though not a very good one. She’s never understood the intricacies of spell casting; instead she just throws raw magic at problems and they usually explode. She lives in Detroit Free Zone that is ruled by a goddess who upholds very few laws (slavery and murder are still wrong), but otherwise, the inhabitants can do whatever they please. The goddess also sometimes moves the buildings and streets around which makes even driving… quite interesting.

Opal is a cleaner. She’s a freelance agent who clears out apartments and houses when the renter has been evicted. Usually, she finds enough good stuff that she’s been able to pay her debt. But for the last six months, she’s had horrible luck and she really needs a good score so that she can make her next payment. Unfortunately, in her latest apartment instead of valuable items, she finds a body that has been rotting for a month. After her initial shock, she calls the organizer who convinces her to just clean the apartment of anything valuable. Since the body has been there for a month, it’s unlikely that anyone will come to claim it and the property.

However, Opal’s bad luck continues: while she finds a magic formula that could make her rich, she has no idea where very valuable ingredients are. But then she gets wind of where the formula might be… except that to get them, she has to use almost her last penny. And she’s not the only one chasing the riches.

This was a fun and fast-paced urban fantasy story. It combines tech and magic. The world is technologically more advanced than ours: (almost) all cars drive themselves and Opal has a personal AI, Sibyl, who takes care of paying her bills and also supports her emotionally. I rather liked Sibyl. People can also graft cyborg parts into their bodies. The world also has magic and dragons.

Opal is quite a pragmatic character, so I was wondering how and why she has a huge debt. But this is, of course, modeled after the US system where both education and healthcare can literally bankrupt a person. Even though Opal does most things in her life purely for money, she has a clear moral compass and won’t cross it, no matter how desperate she is. She also has a very interesting backstory, but I won’t spoil it here.

She runs into fellow cleaner Nick Kos who saves her from a couple of goons. Nick has guessed that she’s after something good and he wants in. Essentially, he bullies himself into protecting Opal. He’s far more mercenary than she and starts not trusting him, in fact, she thinks that he’s creepy and he’s done pretty bad things. The more we know about him, the quirkier he becomes. They’re pretty adversarial, but I guess they will become romantically attached in later books.

This series seems to be a spin-off of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, but I had no problem understanding the world and characters. I haven’t read Heartstrikers, but the main characters there are apparently dragons so I’m going to take a look.