ARC REVIEW: Magic at the Gate

Devon Monk
Magic at the Gate (Allie Beckstrom #5)
ISBN-10: 0451463625
ISBN-13: 978-0451463623
Urban fantasy
November 2, 2010

Apologies for getting this one reviewed/posted late. It’s been an unforgivably busy past few weeks at Casa Lurv. Hopefully things will start ironing out soon!

Blurb via the author’s site:

Allie Beckstrom’s lover, Zayvion Jones, is a Guardian of the Gate, imbued with both light and dark magic and responsible for ensuring that those energies don’t mix. But Zayvion lies in a coma, his soul trapped in death’s realm.

To rescue him, Allie must follow the specter of her deceitful late sorcerer father, Daniel Beckstrom, who is more than familiar with death’s domain. And when Allie discovers that the only way to save Zayvion is to sacrifice her very own magical essence, she makes a decision that may have grave consequences for the entire world.

The Allie Beckstrom books have become one of my most favorite urban fantasy series. It’s got a unique system of magic, a heroine who’s managed to grow and become so much more than the nose-to-the-ground hound she was way back in book one. From not caring about the world’s problems to its potential savior, Allie Beckstrom has major character. And so does the rest of this series.

The prior book, Magic on the Storm, was probably my most favorite book of the series to date, and it still is. It was amazing in how much depth was given to each character, as well as to the series arc. I felt like I connected with the series in a way I hadn’t before. I really enjoyed this installment, too, although I have to admit that at times it felt like its purpose was more to flesh out the climax and happenings of the last book, as opposed to moving the series as a whole a lot more forward. That being said, I still loved it. And even if the series arc wasn’t a whole lot more fleshed out, there was still a lot happening in this one and the characters all got another wonderful dose of development.

I think one thing that made me feel this way is because Allie’s wonderfully enigmatic lover, Zayvion Jones, is suffering the ill effects of the end of the last book, and so isn’t really awake and engaged in this book’s happenings. They became a huge reason I enjoyed the last book so much. And when he wakes up, they’re kind of out of sorts with one another. I kind of count my reaction, one of dismay, as a good one, though. It shows how invested I’ve become in their relationship. While romance isn’t exactly a driving force behind this series, there’s no denying that Allie and Zayvion are an important part of its heartbeat. What Allie does for him this time is breathtaking as well as awesomely butt-kicking and female-empowering. She proves, more than proves, that she is a strong woman who’s capable of going to the bat for those she loves.

I think this has become one of my favorite characteristics of an urban fantasy heroine. It only gets better when said heroines in turn get the praise for being this way from those they love. It’s not an easy thing to see any loved one in danger on their behalf, but it goes without saying that it’s hard for a man to accept that it wasn’t him in that position for her. That’s kind of what Allie and Zay face at one point. It’s another building block to their relationship.

The part of the series arc having to do with special discs that Allie’s father was once upon a time developing to store magic for people to use – and not pay a price for it – is the main one taking stage this time. Well, really it’s been the main series point since book one, but we finally start to actually see within the storyline the consequences for those disks being made, as opposed to hearing how they could one day be used. The dead aren’t always content to stay that way, and Alle’s father’s disks enable the so-called “watercolor people” (so named for how they appear to Allie sometimes, a bit washed out and muted, like a watercolor painting) to do things no one foresaw. The Authority – a group of magic users privy to much more magical knowledge than the average person, and therefore a kind of enforcement agent for it – finds itself split and at war since the end of the previous book, and things literally come to a powerful head in this installment.

Characters of note besides Allie and Zayvion, who are soul complements (pairs of magic users whose magic is compatible and therefore more powerful together), were Shaymus and Terric. Shay and Terric also happen, as most of the Authority believe, to be soul compliments, but due some unfortunate past happenings, both men seem to want the partnership as well as not want it at the same time. I wasn’t actually altogether sure of these very palpable vibes between them, but hell, I couldn’t help but wonder if part of what they’re struggling with is feeling sexually interested. I’m not exactly sure yet what it is that soul compliments usually feel for one another. From what I’ve seen, most pairs do seem to have some kind of romantic attachment to one another. I would kind of be all for this between Shay and Terric. Kind of like a dog would be all for a juicy steak bone. I felt like their relationship was dangled in front of me in just such a way, except – dammit all – I just wasn’t allowed to chew on it yet. I could be totally wrong about the vibes I get from the pair, but I really want to be right.

It sort of feels like, as I begin to contemplate the worldbuilding portion of this service announcement, that I’ve said it all before. So I’ll just say – the worldbuilding. It’s good. It’s damn good. It’s awesome, even. And I’m totally serious. This series still ranks in my top five urban fantasy series to date, and the worldbuilding has a lot to do with that. The author makes use of a wonderful, unique system of magic that has painful repercussions for the user or the proxy that’s chosen to bear the load of magic’s backlash. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see that magic has a very deep, rich and dark past, a mythology if you will, and it’s much more explored this time around. Therefore, with this installment, technically (and despite my feeling at times as if the series arc didn’t progress a whole lot) we actually do get to learn some cool things about magic’s history, and how the past is starting to catch up with the Authority and any “in the know” about what magic can really do aside from the normal, everyday mundane variety.

I can’t say it enough. This is an excellent series that gets better with each installment. It has characters and a world that are both rich and deeply explored. Allie is a wonderful first person protagonist, the best kind that is able to share the spotlight enough so that we get that across-the-board character development in every character of note. This is a tightly written, fast-paced urban fantasy series that is definitely one to aspire to in terms of fun, quality and imagination. Magic at the Gate continues that series tradition quite well.

Rating: Four and Half Scoops

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  1. Oh, I love this UF series! Agree with ya that it gets better and better! Unfortunately have to wait ’til late Jan 2011 to read this one ‘cos it’s released later in the UK. Your tweet mentioned it’s one of your top five fave UF series. I’d love to know the identity of the other four! ;)

  2. I must confess to skip reading your review (not because I don’t love your reviews – I do! – but because I haven’t read this series yet… *ducks* But I do have the first book on my TBR list…I’m just waiting to get back into the UF groove :)

    Oh, and I’m with Saffie on wanting to know your top five favourite UF series please!

    • I don’t blame you! I skip reading and just go to the grade or ultimate Like/Dislike final thoughts at times. :) Sometimes we just do not want ANY other impressions before our own have a chance to form.

      And since you and Saffie both are curious, that’s all I need to do a post on it! Thanks for the idea, you two! :)

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