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The Necromancer's Gambit: The Gambit, #1

The Necromancer's Gambit: The Gambit, #1

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The Necromancer's Gambit: The Gambit, #1

4.5/5 (5 ratings)
393 pages
6 hours
Sep 23, 2013


Knight, the sheriff of a local magical government known as "the Gambit," is called to recover a mutilated body, tainted with magic and dumped at a popular haunt. When the corpse is identified as a close associate of the Gambit, it threatens the safety of the community he protects, and those he cares about most. As the fragile peace amongst the city's magic-wielding factions disintegrates, Knight must track down a cadre of murderers before his friends are picked off, one by one- with each death used to strengthen the spells cast against the Gambit.

Sep 23, 2013

About the author

Nicolas Wilson is a published journalist, graphic novelist, and novelist. He lives in the rainy wastes of Portland, Oregon with his wife, two cats and a dog.Nic has written eight novels. Whores: not intended to be a factual account of the gender war, and Dag are currently available for e-reader, and will soon be available in paperback. Nexus, The Necromancer's Gambit, Banksters, Homeless, The Singularity, and Lunacy are all due for publication in the next two years, as well as several short story collections.Nic's work spans a variety of genres, from political thriller to science fiction and urban fantasy.For information on Nic's books, and behind-the-scenes looks at his writing, visit

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The Necromancer's Gambit - Nicolas Wilson

The Necromancer’s Gambit

(The Gambit #1)

Nicolas Wilson

Table of Contents


The Investigation


The Necromancer

Burger Time

The Cabin

The Preparation

The Spy

The Keep

Premature Commemoration

The Queen

The Bust

The VC


The Autopsy

The Other Knight

Wit No Han

The Swindle

Shadow Gambit



Daddy Issues




Risky Business


The Pen










Doctor’s Office



The New Boss

The Gambit

Epilogue: Haunted

Author’s Note



I’m not going to tell you my name. Names have power. But we’ll get to that. For now, know that everyone calls me Knight.

It’s raining, but this is Portland, so that’s redundant. My hair is soaked, plastered to my head. I get it cut at a little shop in Hazel Dell. The owner is a gentle, older woman who decorated the place like it was her parlor: balls of yarn, old portraiture, and a pink, flowery wall paper that all give it a 1950s feel. Each time I go, she decides I look like a different celebrity from the 30s or 40s, and insists on cutting my hair that way. Right now I’m Gary Cooper, apparently. But I go there anyway, because she’s the only one who doesn’t disturb my cowlicks, and make me look like Alfalfa.

I check my watch. Rook’s late. That’s not a good sign- or maybe it’s just a character flaw- I don’t know her well enough to say.

I’m huddled under an awning to stay out of the worst of it. Some poor bastard in a beat-up pick-up left his lights on. If it was warmer, or drier, I’d leave it alone- and I should. Never draw attention to yourself. It was the closest thing to a maxim my mother ever had. But the idea of someone having to walk home in this downpour, fuck- being stuck in this city’s lousy enough.

I leave the coffee I'm holding under the awning, and walk slowly over to the truck. I hope a driver careless enough to leave his lights on maybe didn’t lock the doors. But that would make things simple, and this driver’s apparently a very practical moron.

Simplest unlocking spell I know involves sympathetic magic. You spit in the keyhole, to make the lock a part of you. Then you use an incantation to convince it that you both want the lock open; my favorite I learned from an Irish klepto who might have stolen my heart if she hadn’t made off with my wallet first.

Sympathizing a lock open always reminds me of that scene from Empire, where Luke can’t get his rocks up- because it only kind of works. Sometimes, you just look at the lock sideways, and it’s done. Other times, you can work a lock for hours, and nothing.

The Toyota’s lock has seen better days, and its owner isn’t gentle about shoving his key inside, so it's used to being manhandled, and gives quickly. I glance around. There are enough people on the sidewalk that I’ve definitely been seen, but nobody’s paying enough attention to care. I open up the door, and feel around for a second, just long enough to find the light switch and push it in.

The fuck are you doing in my truck? a man asks from behind me. He’s drunk; I’m not sure if the smell or the slur hits me first. I feel a hand on my shoulder, that works its way to the collar of my leather jacket. I turn around.

Just turning off your lights, I say, earnest.

You were busting into my car. I can’t be sure if he shoves me against his truck, or nearly passes out against his truck, and uses me to cushion his landing. Either way, it’s all I can do not to punch him right in the face. I take a breath.

You left your lights on and your door unlocked. I just wanted to help. I put up my hands, in surrender. He knows he’s ploughed, so he stops to think about it; he can’t decide if I’m telling the truth, and I’d guess it wouldn’t be the first time he drunkenly punched an innocent man, so he lets go of my collar.

Without my collar to steady him, he falls most of the way into his cab. He’s drunker than I thought. And even if I call the cops, they’d never get here before he was gone. I grab hold of his shoulders, to steady him, You don’t look so good. Maybe you should sleep it off. He grunts, and I know I’m not so lucky. I don’t quite remember which Greek or Latin root I need to finish off a drowsiness spell. I don’t dare guess, lest I Sleeping Beauty him- because I really don’t want to have to deep tongue kiss a man tonight- especially not this man.

I slam him hard against the steering wheel. Whoa, I yell, for the sake of a homeless man, half-asleep in a doorway with a clear line of sight. You okay, buddy?

He’s got a small cut in his forehead, and it’s drooling blood around his brow. Maybe, I, maybe I should sleep it off. He’s not unconscious, but he’s almost passed out from drink. I fold his legs into the cab and shut the door.

Got plans? Female voice. Haughty. Not authoritative enough to be a cop- but it’s nobody I recognize.

Excuse me? I ask as I turn around.

You know, if you’ve got a long night of date-rape planned, I can always come back in the morning. I’d hate to intrude on your evening. I realize then it’s Rook.

You’re late.

You must be Knight; Sister Magdalene said you were grumpy. I’m- I grab her wrist and squeeze. If she isn’t who I think she is, this is the point I get maced, or maybe a fireball cast in my underpants.

Don’t. I give her a second to react, and when she doesn’t I let her go. "Never use your name with anyone if you can avoid it. Names have power. Magic draws on connection. A name gives someone a piece of you, and a stronger connection, one they can use to burn you from a distance. Besides which, when the Salem Circle finally sets up its government, you’re going to be their castle, so you’ve already got a title. You’re Rook."

"But don’t titles also have power?"

Some. But less – for the same reason that saying goddamn the President isn’t nearly as effective as casting a diarrhea spell on Barrack Obama. Specificity is your friend- and your enemy. I pick up the coffee, and push it out to her. It’s cold.

As in ice, or you didn’t grab one of those sleeve things?

As in whichever extreme I ordered it at wasn’t enough to overcome your extreme tardiness.

I’d retort with a witticism about your tardedness if I‘d had my coffee already. She grabs the cup and drinks it like a shot. There’s a sigil on the bottom of it. Not a spell in its own right, just an activator; the sugar in her coffee is transubstantiated. The spell turns it back into an artificial sweetener, one that in significant quantities acts as a laxative. She doesn’t notice the mark- didn’t even check for one- which almost makes me want to activate the spell.

But I don’t. Because I’m trying to be diplomatic, and there are probably gentler ways to teach her caution. "I’m still not 100% on why you’re riding along with me. Our Castle is friendly enough, loves to talk tradecraft, and actually has experience relevant to your new responsibilities."

"I’m supposed to be Rook eventually. But right now I’m just another sister. Magdalene asked me to come and learn what I could about your gambit, so we could design our equivalent from a position of knowledge."

Magdalene? What is she, a first century prostitute?

Her eyes flash with a memory, and I realize she knows Magdalene’s real name and wants to tell it to me, then she says Names have power. I know it, too; Magdalene and I have a history, but Rook doesn’t need to know that. History has power, too.

She takes another sip from her coffee, then asks, So is this what a magical dick does? Sit around drinking old coffee? And why couldn’t you just wait for me to get here, then let me order for myself?

One, because this is the only block in Portland without a Starbucks on the corner, and two, because we have a case. The moment we're inside we're on the clock.

So that’s why you had me meet you outside the Cauldron. You didn’t strike me as a dance club kind of guy.

Am I that obvious? I kneel in front of my homeless witness from before. It takes a moment for him to recognize me, and he worries for an instant that I mean to shut him up, until he sees the green of a bill in my hand. Guy in the truck hit his head pretty hard. You want to keep an eye on him, for me? He mumbles something that sounds like ‘sure’ and palms the twenty; we both wish it was more.

The Investigation

Rook follows me to the entrance of the Cauldron. I can already feel the oppressive bass pounding from inside, and the heavy stink of sweat and smoke on the air. I hand our cover fee to a woman in her mid-thirties trying too hard to cling to her late twenties. Hand stamp? she asks, and I shake my head. You’re supposed to get a hand stamp, she says, bored but annoyed.

I peel a Hamilton and set it on top of the cover. She shrugs and waves us in.

Rook gives me a look. You don’t trust the ink? Her tone is skeptical. Exactly how green are the witches out of Salem these days?

Psychography- spirit writers. I’m having to talk louder than I like to overcome the music, but the crowd in the Cauldron is 60% mage; it takes more than a dry discussion of magic to turn heads in here.

I thought that was mostly the ideomotor effect- she yells back, like dowsing, or using a Ouija board.

Adepts can transcribe otherworldly communication- but that’s only half the craft. They use apothecary inks- magic distilled in liquid form. Generally, the covens like their magic fresh- fresh ingredients, fresh rituals- some bullshit about it being closer to the natural way of things, and more pure. Elixirs like apothecary inks never really caught on with them, especially in an isolated Circle like hers. You ever been spirit-written? I don’t recommend it.

I pull out my phone to send a text, tell Pawn that we’re here. It helps if you claim to have OCD? Like how vampires tell people they have porphyria. Helps explain away the little eccentricities- keeps people from getting too curious about things they wouldn’t understand.

Pawn sticks out as he pushes his way through the crowd. He’s in his late forties, early fifties, buzzed, thinning hair, short, stocky build. And he only sticks out more because he doesn’t recognize he’s at least fifteen years too old for this crowd. Body’s in the champagne room, he says, and spends a moment too long looking at Rook.

Body? she asks, pretending as a courtesy not to notice him leering.

Pawn leads us past a bouncer, into the back room. There’s a corpse in the middle of the floor. The body’s charred, and mangled, in an unnatural pose. I’ve seen similar, from falls- particularly somebody who fell without trying to catch themselves.

Pawn stalks around Rook, seeing if she’ll respond to his assertion of dominance. When she doesn’t he figures she’s just a piece of meat. So this is the rookie, huh? Gotta say, she’s a sight prettier than you when I trained you.

Yet you just keep getting uglier and fatter, as the years pack on, I say. He grunts; from her look, I can tell Rook feels bad for him, but only because she doesn’t know him.  It’s burnt to hell. You have a vamp sniff it out?

Was a vamp that brought it to me, one of my CIs.

And I had my money on you pocketing the informant stipend.

There’s a hint of pain in his expression before he buries it- he doesn’t appreciate being shamed in front of the new girl, but plays it off. I take my cut, but the informant’s good. Never had a problem with him before.

Bring him in. I’ll want to know what he does. Witnesses?

Just the vamp.

The bouncer?

Tim. He was outside. Heard a crack, then the thump. Presumably the port, then the landing. Room was empty at the time. But he got the vamp to check it out.

You like the bouncer for it?

"Nah. He’s a solid citizen. Worked here for better of a decade. Never thrown me out on my ass- which is something. Always pays his taxes. Besides which, bartender corroborates him being outside when she heard the sounds, then him fetching my CI."

I’m not so sure. Still, grabbing the vamp-

Cauldron’s been a hangout for most of his tenure. This ain’t his first dog and pony.

Pawn’s being uncharacteristically thorough, tonight, but for some reason that puts me more on edge. Get him in here anyway.

The bouncer is a few inches north of six foot, and with his shaved head looks like Mr. Clean. He has a sternness to him, like he’d prefer to crack your skull to talking, but there’s a childlike glee in his eyes- he enjoys playing the heavy, but play is all it is.

Did you touch anything in the room? I ask it flat- not quite mean, just cold. I haven’t figured out what kind of witness he’s going to be just yet.

No. He’s incredulous, almost laughing at the implication he’s involved.

Not even the victim? Not to check for a pulse?

He slows up, recognizes someone sizing him up, and levels his eyes at me- not menacing, but fixing me with his eyes to tell me he’s being polite right now instead of talking with his fists. He’s a kebab. I also didn’t check my bacon at breakfast for a pulse- or my burger at dinner.

Bacon and burgers? Not going to live long that way. His eyebrows shoot up. Pawn laughs, because between the two of us we justify keeping a Burgerville open 24 hours- the manager on MLK told us as much one night- whereas Tim's built like a Finnish underwear model.

And who was here? 

Just the stiff.

Why was the room empty?

In this economy, we don’t always staff the champagne room. Bringing in girls who can’t make cab fare during their shift - let alone cover the stage fee- that’s not fair.

Stage fee?

Yeah. It’s pretty standard. The venue charges a dancer a flat stage fee to perform, to me always seemed more honest than taking a cut. A lot of the clubs in Portland will hold the good shifts hostage unless girls commit to working dead weekday shifts. But they’re more dependent on dancers than we are. We cater to a slightly more diverse crowd.

So you’re not just the bouncer.

Part owner, now. I started bouncing, and back then room and board was part of the compensation. Then the recession hit and things started going lousy, Trish began paying me in shares of the club. Eventually I just owned half- so now it’s half mine and I work here for a cut of the profits- which is usually just enough to cover my tab at the bar, plus the cot and hots.

Was all that before or after you started shtupping Trish.

He blushes a little, which is even easier to tell with his cue ball head. Uh, I think I had about a 40 percent stake, then. We’d worked together for seven years or so. She tends bar, and I bounce, seven nights a week. Spend that much time with somebody and you either really get to appreciate them, or really start to hate them.

So you’re plowing the bartender, congrats, Pawn says, but he’s distracted, nods to himself that something finally makes sense. The amount of time he spends here, he certainly hit on her- and now he thinks he knows why she shot him down. That part of your compensation package make up for the lost pay?

I could pop you like the hairy little zit that you are, Tim says, without ever losing the glee in his eyes. I bet he could- and it kind of makes me want Pawn to keep provoking him.

But when he doesn’t, I continue with the questions. That does muddy the waters, though. If your girlfriend is your alibis for not being in the room when it happened.

Ask around. The place wasn’t exactly empty when it happened. Just about any table should have at least one person who can vouch for me. I nod at Pawn and he heads back to the main room to find out.

You weren’t in the room. What’d you hear?

"Loud pop. Like a car backfiring, or a gunshot. I actually got a little scared it was a gunshot."

This place got a gun?

Under the bar.

And you didn’t get it?

He smiles, that kind of smile that says he knows he did something foolish. "Well, I’m four steps down the hall when I think I should get the gun. But then you have me turning tail away from trouble- which never looks good- a bouncer lives or dies on his reputation. And it would showcase me second-guessing myself, which makes me look like an indecisive fool."

In front of Trish.

He blushes all over again. "Yeah. So I tell myself I’ve never had to pull the shotgun before, tonight can’t be the night I’ll need to. Denial to save my pride- and I’m sure Trish will give me an earful tonight about it. But I bust in. And there’s the corpse. I’m relieved, actually, not to have a gun in my face. So I come out all calm, shrug at people looking to me for some kind of information, and tell Trish we’ll want to put in a call to you. But then I see somebody at the bar, somebody I remember seeing with your stout friend, so I tell her to hold off a sec." He nods at where Pawn had been standing a moment ago.

The vamp? Pawn comes back in, and nods that he’s got confirmation.

Yeah. So the vamp sniffs out the area, and of course there’s magic in the air. But before I can even get back to Trish to put through a call, your Pawn shows up.


Hey, I was in the car, in the area. On my way to a strip club, if you need to know, but I wasn’t more than three minute’s distance when I get the nod from my CI. That seems too convenient. But I’d seen enough of Pawn’s expense reports to know he probably didn’t have a CI he didn’t wine and dine in strip joints.

So am I done here? Tim asks.

I think so, I tell him. But we’ll need to get the body out. You mind doing the honors?

"I was hoping to go home not smelling like old jerky tonight."

And I was hoping not to catch a corpse. Tonight seems to suck all around.

Shouldn’t we analyze the crime scene? Rook asks.

This isn’t the scene, just where they dumped the body, I say. But there’s something hopeful in her voice, so I decide to give her the remedial lesson quickly.

I kneel beside the body, and use my pen to move what’s left of his pant leg away from his shin. Look at the burns, melted skin, charred muscle. Heat of this kind would have destroyed this room, but the carpet isn’t so much as singed. Point of fact, there’s no blood, no melted skin, nothing in the carpet. He was well-done before he ever got here.

"The other reason we won’t find anything is here: look at the ankles. Snapped, but through the burnt flesh- you can see the difference between the meat on the outside and on the in; body fell post-mortem. And you smell the brimstone- sulfur, rotten egg stink? Killer teleported it in here, and either fucked up the transport spell or didn’t give a shit, because the exit was too high. Corpse came in in an orthostatic position- standing; the fall caused the compound fractures, probably to the tibia. Best we’re going to get will come from the corpse itself, but we’ll have to get it to the lab to analyze it. I turn to Pawn. Bring my car around." I toss him the keys.

I unfold a wedge of silk and lay it flat next to the body. Tim helps me roll the corpse up in it like a burrito, and I put my coat on its shoulders. Now help me lift the bastard. I get most of the weight in the legs, and Tim lifts the head and throws that over my shoulder.

We make our way across the dance floor muttering apologies. He’s a little drunk. Excuse me. My friend’s sick. Can you let me through? We’re lucky it’s nearly last call, and everybody’s either hammered or looking to get laid. Rook’s an appreciated distraction, and makes two men carrying a body through the club less seedy than it should be. Tim stops at the front of the club, waves, then disappears back inside.

Pawn pulls up, and Rook opens the door. I set the corpse in the front seat with a little difficulty, belt him in.

Rook gets in the back, and Pawn saunters off. What was that about a vamp? she asks as I start the car and pull out into traffic.

"That’s right, Salem doesn’t have a colony. Vampires can smell magic. They’re not too specific; this guy could either be magic or have died by it, but it at least lets us know when to look into things, and when to just leave it for the normal cops."

So where are we taking the body?

Bishop’s lab. That didn’t seem to be enough for her. "You could call Bishop a renaissance man- but she’d probably say that’s sexist. She’s our resident polymath."


Her coven likely told her we don't allow women into gambits, which isn't strictly true- it isn't the norm, either. Yeah. We recruited her from a Seattle coven, when our old bishop, Alfil- the elephant- quit. Back when I started, we didn't think he’d retire. He never used to forget anything, but his mind started to go. First little things, incantations, names of spirits, but it got worse, until half the time he’d forget I wasn’t a pawn anymore.

"About that. Pawn said he trained you. But unless I’ve got things backwards, you basically outrank him- at least as far as a gambit can be said to have ranks."

It’s a long story. And since you’ve only met him tonight, a little too early to tell. But that long story short, I took his spot, he took mine. 

In other words, he got demoted, and they promoted you. Almost too bad she isn’t looking to be a horsey. Seems to have the chops.

And I’ll cop to being impressed that when we get to Bishop’s lab, she isn’t dainty about getting the corpse out of my car and back on my shoulder. He’s still heavy, but I shudder to think how much he weighed before most of the moisture was cooked out of him.

Rook beats me to the front door by several seconds, and is about to reach for the knocker. Wait. She stops, and lets me through. I knock out, Shave and a hair cut, with my fist and leave a six beat pause before finishing with, two bits.

A second, comes Bishop’s voice through the door, then she opens it. Rook is shocked that Bishop’s younger than she is.

I push my way between them with the corpse. Fresh delivery of long pig, a little overdone. But I know how you like your meat- as charred and blackened as your shriveled heart. She grins at me. 

Bishop never knew her father. Her mother told her he was in politics, though she never knew if that meant he was in the Seattle gambit or if he worked somewhere in the non-mage legislature. Her mother died when she was 16, officially protoscience-related lung cancer- inhaled too much of the wrong kind of smoke. Bishop spent her last two years as a minor as a ward of the gambit, apprenticing with the brightest minds they had, mostly a man they called the Doctor. When she turned 18, King convinced her to come to Portland.

She never knew her dad. And because she’s by far the youngest member of the gambit, and maybe because she was our only girl- try as Queen might to make that not true sometimes- we all felt protective of her. And despite the fact that she could school any one of us in spellcraft, she looked up to us, probably too much.

She's maturing, aged enough I can't tell myself she's just the kid she was when she moved down here anymore. She's got short, red-brown hair that she's always forgetting to pin back. Because of that, it's rare when she doesn't have a piece of food or corpse hanging from it.

You always bring me the nicest things, she says, still smiling at me. Come in, come in, the coffee’s a little cold, but the hot cocoa’s warm and fresh.

I set the corpse down on her slab, while Rook stares at her. "You’re so pleasant, and, and bubbly, despite the fact that he just brought you a dead body, and set it down on your table like a holiday fruitcake. It’s weird."

It helps that the cocoa’s caffeinated. Loco Cocoa. But it’s only weird because of the dichotomy, since you spent the evening with the glower twins. They see the ugly side of people. I get to see the fascinating side- which is frequently the inside. Bishop sets down her mug, and tears into the silk sheet, unwrapping the body like it’s Christmas. You want the sheet back, or the usual?

Yep. She’s got a chute down to her incinerator in the basement, and she drops it in. The silk is contaminated, physically from contact with the body, and magically, because I’ve been carrying it around in my jacket pocket. Burning it means keeping the next crime scene clean, and preventing somebody from dumpster diving and using it as the focus of a sympathetic spell against me.

So this is the Salem Rook, huh? Seems a bit dainty to be a castle, but it’s nice to meet you. Rook frowns, and looks at Bishop’s skinny arms with some confusion. And nicer still that your coven is finally joining the 21st century.

Uh, it’s nice to meet you, too. Rook reaches out and shakes Bishop’s hand. Bishop smiles, and gives it a second, then walks to the sink and begins vigorously scrubbing her hands.

No offense. But I don’t want to contaminate the body.

Okay, Rook says, while Bishop finishes drying her hands and puts on a pair of gloves. So what is it a Bishop does?

I’m a protoscientist. I study things that aren’t accepted as fact by most people, but that exist anyway. Alchemy’s a good example. Before chemistry was a science, a lot of the foundation for it was laid by alchemists. Same with the astronomical aspects of astrology. But protoscience isn’t just limited to the arcane. A colleague of mine in BC is studying binaurul beats, used to induce specific brain states, applicable for health or just getting someone baked with sound. The theory is that it can be used to induce shamanic trances, but it’s really just sigil magic by a different name and methodology.

Bishop spends a moment taking in the body, before she says, I was thinking of getting some KFC. When you said you were bringing the new Rook, I thought we could split a bucket, but now, the smell of this- why go out when we can eat in? Rook stares at her with wide eyes. What, are we not laughing about that, yet? Then she says, Oh, right- she wouldn’t know the story.

I take that as my cue to tell it- since Bishop only knows it secondhand, anyway. Alfil, in one of his later in life oopsies- this was right before he retired- was supposed to check some decomposition for me, to see if it was natural or supernatural. Instead, he spent the better part of an evening performing a complex diagnostic spell on sliced, peppered turkey, while eating corpse, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Really, he was lucky; he only got mild food poisoning. I get worse from the Chinese takeout down the street.

I think that’s because they age their corpses, Bishop says solemnly.

How long you think it’ll take to get an idea what we’re looking at? I ask her.

I can tell you you’re looking at a big burnt guy. If you want me to be able to point out more than roast chestnuts and a blackened tree stump, you’ll have to give me a few hours.

Cool. I check my phone. It looks like Pawn’s got his CI to the safehouse. Let us know when you've got something concrete.


The safehouse is on the other side of town. We stop at Voodoo Doughnut because they have the least bad coffee around at this time of night. Rook orders a voodoo doll and a diablos rex; You’re practically a stereotype, I tell her. She refuses to try a bacon maple bar.

On the way back out to the car she says, I couldn’t help but notice you left a fairly sizeable tip in the jar- well north of fifteen percent. There an actual Vodun Botono in there?

I have no idea. Once I complained when their coffee gave me heartburn, and for a week I had blood in my stool, she looks down at her already headless voodoo doll donut with concern. But I’m a regular, and you don’t screw with the people who make your food. She shrugs, and bites off another of his limbs.

The safehouse is within walking distance of Voodoo, and I can’t help but think that isn’t coincidence, but we drive, anyway. Pawn’s smoking in the alley, and I hand him a box from Voodoo, containing the phallic cock-n-balls with

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  • (5/5)
    I really enjoyed Wilson's style. A non-stop barrage of rather vulgar sarcasm kept me smiling, while this story's nastier moments pulled no punches. Definitely not for the weak of stomach. Mages squabble over territory in this tale that seems to be one part detective story, one part gang warfare. The good guys aren't really all that 'good,' but you manage to become attached to them anyhow; and they certainly seemed better than the alternative. It was clear a lot of thought went into the background worldbuilding, and I'd really love to see more in this book universe.Very well-designed, interesting characters. The book was not without flaws - it was difficult to determine which character's eyes you were seeing through at first, in some segments. The skillful way different elements of the story were interwoven earned this book its five stars, however.