Spellhacker by M.K. England
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Kyrkarta, magic—known as maz—was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that’s tightly controlled—and, of course, outrageously expensive.
Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever.
But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they’re driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague—and possibly save the world.
Warnings: mention of substance abuse, traumatic death of parent, panic attack, disaster situations including earthquake and major explosion, gun violence
England’s sophomore novel features a fantastic group of teens fighting against something big, much like their first novel, The Disasters. Spell Hacker is set in a fantasy world where magic and technology have been blended, and the society is futuristic compared to ours. A planet-wide spellplague that happened a decade ago free magic dangerous to use, and currently everyone uses the ‘scrubbed’ version provided by MCC, a corporation that has a lot of power. Our group are a set of blackmarket siphoners, who steal the magic, called ‘maz’ from MCC’s supply lines; when they come across a new strain of maz on what was supposed to be their ‘last job ever’ they get caught up in something that upends the way their current society functions.
Firstly, yes, it’s a heist novel and the character cast is quite entertaining as a group so that part is solid. Our protagonist, Diz, can’t use maz, but can create tech to use maz, which Ania uses, while Remi is a spellweaver, and Jaesin is their muscle. Diz is also their resident hacker and tech genius, and while the others want to move to another city for better education/job opportunities, she wants to be in Kyrkarta, and because they don’t, she resents them for it. Hoping that taking a highly lucrative job might sway some decisions, she unwittingly gets them into a risky job. As they become fugitives, and have to prove their innocence, they learn Some Things about the spellplague that destroyed their own families.
Diz’s character is snarky, and seems ebullient, but also hides insecurities and vulnerabilities behind a wall. This is the main thing that makes her fight with her friends, and is a primary obstacle in her relationship with Remi. Now, while I like their dynamic on the whole, I couldn’t entirely believe that as the thing standing between her and them, primarily because they have known each other continuously for over a decade; their friendships are not a couple of years old where they would have that sort of problems. In fact, hers and Remi’s will-they-won’t-they sort of became tiresome after a while, because they both know about each other’s feelings so it was like bravery or not wanting to change friendship (the usual obstacles in a standard childhood-friends-to-lovers trope) was the main problem here. Diz being all ‘I’ve closed that door’ over and over had me rolling my eyes, TBH.
As for the world-building, it took a little while to familiarize with the strains of maz involved, but it was helped by the ‘periodic table of maz’ in the start. The conspiracy was pretty obvious, and pretty much standard dystopian fare, but what I liked was the fact that it drew parallels between maz and petroleum in our world, and how it affects the climate of their world. The strains of maz were interesting, but I wish we got some of Remi’s perspective to understand how they see the maz and how spellweaving works actually.
Overall, it is pretty entertaining, has a likeable set of characters and while the mystery is not that much of a mystery, it is a fun read.
Is it diverse? queer WoC main character; non-binary love interest who has a chronic illness; quee and PoC secondary characters, including a bisexual character, an older lesbian widow, an elderly gay scientist couple
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Harper Teen, via Edelweiss.
Other books by the author
Released on January 21, 2020
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