The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab.
That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.
When I heard Rachel Aaron was writing a new series set in the same universe as her Heartstriker books, I was ecstatic because I love those books so much. So I definitely had my expectations high for this new book, and I have to say, my expectations were met.
One of the things that Aaron does best as a writer is make you care about her characters. Opal is an easy character to connect with even though you don’t find out some of her backstory until much later in the book. She’s got flaws, but you root for her because she’s likable. Maybe not quite as instantly likable as Julius Heartstriker, but then, who is? Opal is hard working, determined, and resourceful–all things I love in my protagonists. So what if she’s not that great at magic?
The other main character of the story is Nik, a fellow Cleaner and Opal’s biggest rival. Due to circumstances Nik and Opal are forced to team up to work on this one job which ends up being a much bigger deal than either of them had bargained for. Nik is one of my favorite types of characters. He’s all tough guy persona, loner, mysterious, keeps things close to the vest. But he has a soft underbelly. He’s a complete opposite from Opal in a lot of ways but I think that’s why they work so well together, once they stop irritating each other.
The concept of Opal and Nik’s job is really neat too. I love the idea of Cleaners–people who bid on people’s old spaces after they default on rent and take over their old belongings to clean out and sell. You never know what you might come across in a job like that. I loved when Opal got into a bidding war with another Cleaner at auction–it really had me having flashbacks to Storage Wars (aaaa-yup!).
Since this story takes places several years after Heartstrikers, we’re dealing with some future technology in this one, which I thought was cool. There are cybernetic enhancements, and the extent that humans (and others) can rely on technology to run every aspect of their lives from driving their cars, to organizing their day to day activities through light AI is even more staggering then it is today. And a point is brought up that perhaps this technology is relied on too much. I appreciated Nik’s take on this (although maybe he takes it to an extreme in the other direction).
The plot was pretty good and kept the pace going. At heart there’s a mystery to solve and other problems that they have to get through because the clock is ticking–Opal’s on a deadline. The stakes were high for Opal, you could really feel the weight of completing this task and what it meant for her. I liked that there were multiple things going on, which made the story have more layers to it.
Overall, I really loved this book. It’s fun, fast-paced, and full of the kinds of characters I love. Can’t wait to read the next one! 4.5/5 stars.