Magic Lost, Trouble Found (Raine Benares, Book 1) - Lisa Shearin

~~Moved from GR~~

Magic Lost, Trouble Found

by Liz Shearin

 

Recommended to Carly by: Snarktastic Sonja
Recommended for: readers looking for light full-fantasy hardboiled spoofery

 

Raine Benares has seen her fair share of trouble. As a member of a cheerfully amoral elven crime family, she's seen quite a few dubious deals. As a Seeker--a mix of sorceress and private eye--she's gotten into more than her fair share of tense situations. But when her attempt to protect a friend from his own stupidity ends with Raine in possession--and maybe possessed by--a powerful magical artefact, she knows her problems have only just started. All too soon, she's on the run from not one but two goblin factions and trying to investigate the mysterious supernatural deaths of magical practitioners throughout the city--all while trying to keep her youthful protégée from getting himself into even hotter water than Raine herself.

If you're in the mood for something light and fun, take a look at Magic Lost, Trouble Found. The dialogue is fast and snappy, the characters are reasonably engaging, and it makes for an extremely enjoyable detective romp. It contains no explicit scenes of any variety; both romance and violence are kept on the light side. The story takes place in a full-fantasy world yet oddly familiar world; if you've read other books in the genre, it rather reminds me of TanFaire from Glen Cook's Garrett, PI or the city scenes in Alex Bledsoe's Eddie Lacrosse. Despite its magical and medieval trappings, the overtones of Raine's world are basically modern, and the dialogues and dialects are contemporary American tinged with a touch of a hard-boiled detective vibe. Raine herself reminded me of Cimorene, the rebellious royal protagonist of Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons. Although this story is marketed to adults, its straightforward light-hearted and constantly comedic adventure also reminded me of Wrede's children/YA series.

Although I found Magic Lost, Trouble Found a pleasant read, I tend to be easily sidetracked, and my major distraction throughout this book was worldbuilding. Raine's full-fantasy city populated by goblins, elves, and humans, but as I sought to characterize and distinguish between species, I became increasingly uncomfortable with my conclusions. Both elves and goblins are apparently close to indistinguishable from humans except for their wiry frames, pointed ears, and, in the case of goblins, angular features and pointed teeth. One of Raine's on-again-off-again lovers is a goblin, and as no one seems particularly appalled by this, I'd assume that since interbreeding is possible and they are not so much different species as different ethnicities. Okay, then.... now we have people of different colours, different hair-colours, slightly different builds and mouth-shapes, and very different cultures. Right....so.... on one hand, we have the elves, who, if not innately good, appear to be doing everything possible to live up to the term of "fair folk." They are fair-skinned, with European features (blonde, red-haired, etc) and what seems to be a generally Roman/early European society. Most of the characters we meet, with one notable exception, are intent on upholding law and order--many are official Guardians and paladins--and even the lovable rascals have their own peculiar moral code. They have names like Bertran, Janek, Markus Sevelien, Garadin, Piaras Rivalin, Mychael Eiliesor, Justinius Valerian, Lorcan Karst, etc. And then we have the goblins. Since Raine is an elf, she portrays the goblins as foreigners with mysterious rituals, hierarchies, and rules. Goblins aren't good people; they are generally crafty, amoral, and vicious, and we are treated to exactly zero examples of a straightforwardly moral goblin. And what do they look like? They have darker skin, black hair, dark eyes, and sharp features. They carry curved swords (scimitars?), we have mention of at least one female goblin wearing a face veil, and their magic practitioners are called shamans. Just in case you aren't seeing a trend yet, here are a few goblin names: Sathrik Mal'Salin, Chigaru Mal'Salin, Sarad Nukpana, Khrysani, Tamnais Nathrach, A'Zahra Nuru, Rahimat,. ...Yeah.....about that. Maybe it's just me--I certainly don't insist upon the interpretation--but it feels as though the goblins represent the traditional darker-skinned Other of the historically xenophobic fantasy genre. Okay, so maybe the world is more thoroughly fleshed out in the next book, but as it stands, I'm not precisely thrilled with the species characterizations. A traditional role for fantasy and fantasy races is an exploration of our own racial and ethnic turmoil and prejudices. Call me over-sensitive, over-literal, and OCD, but I was extremely uncomfortable by the way these species were defined and delineated. I'm afraid that I was so diverted by all of this that I gave the narrative and humour rather less attention than it deserved. 

However, there were plenty of moments so entertaining that they managed to pull me back into the story. Raine is an engaging narrator, and her continual commentary is often nearly laugh-out-loud funny. Raine faces the standard angelic-paladin/seductive-villain love triangle, but her internal comments on the situation are so funny that I didn't even begrudge the few moments spent on romance. I also didn't particularly want to kill either of the love interests-- for reference, I usually want to kill both. I loved the various awesomely spunky geriatric mentors that seem to keep popping up, as well as the antics of Raine's young protégée. I think my favorite aspect of the story is that Shearin clearly doesn't take herself too seriously. The flow of the plot was aptly handled, with some absolutely fantastic moments of anticlimax.
 [My favourite was the duel-to-the-death situation turning into a sulky apology.] 
(show spoiler)
From giant leeches to vicious biting pixies, the creatures of Raine's world provide a lot of action and entertainment during her adventures. Overall, the story is a lot of fun, especially if you aren't as easily sidetracked into species characterization as I tend to be, give it a try.