To finish up my season of magical mysteries, I’m highlighting the series which actually gave me the idea of choosing this theme.
Swirling his long, dark coat out of the way of his legs, he was on his knees in an instant, heedless of the ice-touched, waterlogged mud staining the thick fabric of his trousers.
But he was not the first. He swore at finding himself too late; too late to prevent this most virulent of poisons from being harvested, processed, sold and above all, used. The centre of the flower was gone; only a few petals remained.
Konrad sat back on his heels, disturbed. Whoever had harvested this particular specimen was not a professional poison master; the drooping, bruised state of the few surviving petals spoke of the rough lack of care with which the valuable parts of the flower had been removed.
When amateurs played at poison craft, the results were never good.
Konrad Savast is a man with a very peculiar mission: when someone is murdered, his job is to kill the killer. The Malykant is a bound servant of the mysterious power called the Malykt; his role comes with magical abilities, but also a dangerous level of responsibility
A vampire stood at the door to my bakery.
My heart skipped a beat. The sun hadn’t even fully set — damn daylight saving time — and the vampire wasn’t even wearing sunglasses or a hat. He was old, then. Or maybe young? I never could remember whether their skin got more or less sensitive with age. But then, I’d never seen a vampire before, so there’d been no reason to remember my vampire lore lessons.
I was a magical dowser of sorts. I found and attracted magical things, so it wasn’t completely weird that a vampire wound up at my door — except the wards protecting my bakery should have safeguarded me from magical detection. If vampires were even capable of detecting magic on that level. Again I had no idea. I lowered my eyes to nestle a sixth cupcake into the box I was currently packing. Maybe if I ignored him, he’d go away.
Jade is a perfectly ordinary young woman with a cupcake café… except insofar as she’s a half-witch who can taste magic. Beyond whipping up batches of cupcakes that are slightly better than they’ve any right to be, and putting together trinkets from pieces of magically-infused bric-a-brac, Jade doesn’t really use magic herself. Her sister Sienna dabbles, mostly ineffectually, in a wider range of spells, but their grandmother’s magical genes seem to have passed them by.
She glanced to her right. A figure. Motionless. It took a step forward and she almost screamed.
She swallowed. “I was going to…”
Antti was silent. She couldn’t see his eyes, only the straight line of his nose.
“I just wanted to ask…”
He still didn’t say anything.
“Wolf winter,” she said, her voice small. “I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is.”
He was silent for a long time. “It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,” he said. “Mortal and alone.”
Set in Lapland in the early 18th century, Wolf Winter is an ethereal historical fantasy which embraces the full force of a Swedish winter. The atmosphere, like the landscape, is bleak. Ekbäck’s writing is slow and ponderous, deliberately so: there are times when turning the pages feels like shuffling through deep snowdrifts, adding to the sense that we are enduring a harsh winter along with the characters. All in all, the scene is as evocative as a painting.
Councillor Ruthers leaned forward. “Professor Cahill, you are aware of what this means?”
“And I trust that you’ve been discreet?”
“You’re the first person I’ve told, sir.” Perspiration condensed on the polished wood under his hands.
“Then you know the complications that would arise if this were to surface.” The words came out like the first sigh of snow in the autumn air, unexpected and chilling. Cahill took the councillor’s meaning and shivered.
Following some vaguely-described catastrophe in the distant past, most of life has moved underground, at least in ‘civilized’ cities like Recoletta. Surface dwellers produce the world’s food but they’re looked down on with suspicion and contempt. And while the people of Recoletta consider themselves cultured, history (and anything hinting at it) is fiercely suppressed by the governing elite. This, in brief, is the rather unusual world in which The Buried Life is set.
It was an idyllic summer evening in Pemkowet the night the Vanderhei kid died. No one could have guessed the town was hovering on the brink of tragedy. Well, I suppose that’s not technically true. The Sphinx might have known, and the Norns, too, come to think of it. But if they did, they kept it to themselves.
There’s some sort of Soothsayers’ Code that prevents soothsayers from soothsaying on a day-to-day basis, when it might, you know, avert this kind of ordinary, everyday tragedy. Something about the laws of causality being broken and the order of creation overturned, resulting in a world run amok, rivers running backward, the sun rising in the west, cats and dogs getting married…
I don’t know; don’t ask me.
I don’t pretend to understand, especially since it wasn’t an ordinary, everyday tragedy after all. But I guess it didn’t rise to the standard required to break the Soothsayers’ Code, since no sooth was said.
Pemkowet is a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan with an unusual heritage: the Norse goddess Hel has chosen to make it her home. As a result, the town is positively crawling with the supernatural: werewolves and ghouls roam the streets, naiads and undines swim in the river, while Hel herself inhabits a frozen underworld populated with frost-giants and dwarves. With mortals drawn by the chance of glimpsing something they shouldn’t, Pemkowet’s tourist trade is also booming.
I picked the theme of Magical Mysteries partly due to a love of Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell’s visions of law enforcement in magical London: while I didn’t find any alternate Londons in my reading of fantastical mysteries by women, I did uncover a range of diverse and fascinating settings. I’m kicking off with one of the most colourful: Servant of the Underworld is a historical murder mystery set in the Aztec empire.
It seemed an ordinary place, a room like any other in the city: an entrance curtain set with bells, gently tinkling in the evening breeze, walls adorned with frescoes of gods — and, in the centre, a simple reed sleeping mat framed by two wooden chests. Copal incense burnt in a clay brazier, bathing the room in a soft, fragrant light that stung my eyes. And everything, from the chests to the mat, reeked of magic: a pungent, acrid smell that clung to the walls and to the beaten-earth floor like a miasma.
That wasn’t natural. Even in the calmecac, there were strictures on the use of the living blood, restrictions on the casting of spells. Furthermore this looked like the private room of a priestess, not a teaching room for adolescent girls.
Acatl is High Priest for the Dead, a man more comfortable slitting his earlobes to perform blood magic than he is talking to others — especially his brother Neutemoc, a warrior who has always viewed Acatl’s chosen path as one of abject failure. Priests wield some uncanny powers, but it’s the warriors who are the celebrities, earning wealth and status for their families. But when Neutemoc is arrested in mysterious circumstances, Acatl takes up the mantle of investigation without hesitation.