Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

 Stars: 4.5 out of 5

This was such a nice surprise of a book! It reads like urban fantasy… in a fantasy world instead of a slightly reimagined modern world. Since I love the urban fantasy vibe, this worked well for me. 

In order for me to enjoy a book, I need to either be swept away by the story, or fall in love (or hate) with the characters. Some rare gems manage to give me both, but I don’t particularly count on it when I start a book. As long as either one of those is present, I am along for the ride. Well, I’m happy to say that I got both with Gutter Mage. 

The worldbuilding is complex and expertly done. We are introduced to the world gradually, without unnecessary infodumps, but I never felt lost. The author gave me just enough information to understand what has happening and dolled out further revelations in measured doses. Which kept me interested and invested in the story. 

And the characters, oh the characters! I love Roz with all her flaws and jagged edges. I love how real she feels. She’d been through a very traumatic event and the damage it had done to her both physically and psychologically is still there. It defines a lot of her reactions and interactions with others. But Roz never uses it as an excuse for her shitty behavior, and that’s what I like about it. She doesn’t play the victim. She knows she is broken in many ways, but she is resolved to not let the past defeat her. 

The trauma of what she’d gone through prevents her from forming normal trusting relationships with others, because as soon as someone gets too close to her, she panics and does everything to push them away. So her relationship with Nye is even more important to her – he is her only friend. The person she trusts with everything. Implicitly and without question. So what happens later in the book is a punch in the gut for both Roz and the reader. 

I also loved the secondary characters who both helped and hindered Roz in her quest. I didn’t, however, love the main villain. He suffered from the biggest flaw of the villain world, in my opinion – he loved to monologue too much. Also, his motives for doing what he was doing weren’t entirely clear. Yes, he wanted to show the world that enslaving spirits was wrong, but what was the end game for him? He didn’t sound like someone ready to give up his unlife for an ideology without some kind of personal gain.

That quip aside, I really loved this book. It was an excellent introduction to this new world and characters. I really hope that more books will follow, because while the main story ark is resolved in this book, the ending leave a lot of questions and loose ends to be developed in future books. 

PS: I received an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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