Mirah Bolender's fast-paced, adventure fantasy debut, City of Broken Magic, features a bomb squad that defuses magic weapons.
i09—Best of November Science Fiction and Fantasy
SyFy—Best of November Science Fiction and Fantasy
Kirkus SFF—Best of November Science Fiction and Fantasy
Paste—Best Books of November 2018
Five hundred years ago, magi created a weapon they couldn’t control. An infestation that ate magic—and anything else it came into contact with. Enemies and allies were equally filling.
Only an elite team of non-magical humans, known as sweepers, can defuse and dispose of infestations before they spread. Most die before they finish training.
Laura, a new team member, has stayed alive longer than most. Now, she’s the last—and only—sweeper standing between the city and a massive infestation.
Chronicles of Amicae
City of Broken Magic
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
MIRAH BOLENDER graduated with majors in creative writing and art in May 2014. A lifelong traveler, she has traveled and studied overseas, most notably in Japan, and these experiences leak into her work. City of Broken Magic is her debut fantasy novel. She currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Is he going to know?
Laura gripped the handles of her bike harder and squinted, taking in the building before her. No, she decided, no one was visible through the windows. Perfect. All she had to do was sneak in, sit down, pretend she'd been there the entire time. Late? Ha, of course not, what are you talking about? All that stood between her and impunity was that damn squeaky door; though its noise was usually unnoticeable, in the quiet of 8:30 A.M. she was sure it would reach anyone in a mile radius. She glared at it while climbing the few stairs, lugging her bike up alongside. She grabbed the handle, pushed lightly inward ... and the hinges groaned.
"Shit!" she hissed. An answering sound came from inside, and she grimaced.
"Someone's running late," a voice drawled.
She kicked the door open with no more attempt at subtlety. No bell jingled by the door, but a cheap set of wind chimes clinked as a breeze filtered in. Apart from that chime, there wasn't much decoration to be had. The place looked like it had once been a candy shop, with a long counter along three sides of the room, wood on top but glass below to display shelves there. All these shelves and the majority of the countertop were cluttered with glass bottles, tubes, and flasks. Some were held by wiry frames, others suspended above open flame, still others connected by a myriad of tubes, the entire contraption being called "the Kin system." Throughout the maze of glass, golden liquid simmered and frothed. Odds and ends were strewn about in the clear spaces, lingering close enough to the Kin to blacken, or spread amid the glass-encased shelves: papers, a stray fountain pen, small clips and fasteners. Behind the glass sat a large metallic briefcase, long lengths of wire, tools, and a mess of mismatched objects and papers. Four rickety stools were scattered about in the open space between door and counter; on the right wall hung black drapes, and in the back wall was a closed door. It was warm in the room, the bottles and flasks hissing and steaming around her and making the heat even worse than it was outside.
Her boss sat on a stool just behind the Kin machine. He looked at her through the steam, partially obscured and in a position to block the drapes, as was his wont. No wonder Laura hadn't seen him through the windows. Clae Sinclair was fairly young to be running his own business. Laura didn't know his exact age, but he couldn't be any older than thirty. His face was arranged in a look of nigh-permanent bored tranquillity, though when he was angry, it showed in his eyes. He bore three small scars on his face: two on the rise of his left cheekbone, one above his eyebrow; other scars marred his hands and lurked out of sight under his sleeves. Otherwise he was fairly attractive, shorter than the average man, with dark hair curled loosely to frame his face and hanging about halfway down his neck. His eyes were nearly as dark. On the job Laura had heard some other women twittering loudly about his looks, but for her he held all the appeal of a flowering cactus.
While he practically teemed with quirks, there was one so intertwined with his existence that it seemed just as ingrained as all his scars: the black drapes he sat in front of. No one was permitted to venture beyond them or even catch a glimpse of whatever was there. He guarded these drapes with a zeal hard to detect but terrifying to witness the scarce times it hit full force, and this had garnered the attention of some neighbors (who of course talked, and the whole thing was distorted and spread). When people weren't talking about his attitude or latest stunts, they muttered about black curtains. What could he be hiding? A treasure, a monster, an heirloom? Nothing at all? Could it be the cause of his madness? It was rumored that he killed someone who tried to get behind those drapes. The one time someone had mentioned it to his face he'd smiled — actually smiled — and snapped his pocket watch closed with the most menacing click Laura had ever heard. This was the only "proof," so it remained only jeering hearsay. These simple scraps of fabric were the eternal conundrum of the neighborhood. Laura didn't know what was there, and was somewhat obsessed with the mystery herself.
Laura took her sweet time leaning her bike against the only open wall and taking a seat.
"Good morning," she muttered.
Clae didn't reply, just looked at her with that same blank expression. The flasks and tubes continued to spit, and smoke wreathed around him to make a halo above his head.
"I'm not going to make excuses."
"I wouldn't listen to them anyway."
Of course not. "Sorry."
"Don't let it happen again. This job is time-sensitive. There's a reason we have hours."
Laura knew time was important, and the implication that she didn't made her fist her hands in her lap. She tried not to make any other sign of anger, though. She hoped one day she'd master the same serenity Clae had, so when she was angry it carried that much more weight.
"Right. What are we doing today?"
"There's an infestation in the Second Quarter," he replied, finally taking his eyes off her to look at the pseudo chemistry lab around them. "Judging by the description in the report, it's been working away for nearly two months now."
"Two months?" Laura felt her face pale. She'd never encountered a monster that strong.
"It seems to have taken root in a house, eaten the insides."
"And the people inside?"
"I did just say it ate the insides."
Laura felt nauseous. "How big is it, exactly?"
"It's overtaken the entire house, and Second Quarter houses are usually much larger than the Third ones."
"Damn," she breathed.
Clae slid off his stool and pulled the briefcase from under the counter, setting it on his vacated seat. He stalked around the room, picking up little glass and metal containers, tipping some golden mixture from the Kin into them. These he snapped into corresponding slots in the briefcase. As he did this he spoke, and Laura paid rapt attention.
"All entrances to the building will probably be sealed off, so the creature can hide from the light. It took advantage of the early morning to bulk up its defenses."
She remembered another time with only a month's growth, where tables were pressed to the windows and couldn't be moved.
"We'll have to attack through an entrance it hasn't noticed. We may not be able to use bombs or anything highly destructive though, as that may damage the root amulet and make the situation worse."
He pulled out one of the long lengths of wire and unraveled the end. He squinted at it, as if to be sure the silvery material was undamaged, before coiling it up to store in one of the many bags on his belt.
"How do we find one of those entrances?" questioned Laura, slipping off her own stool. "It wasn't exactly hard for you to find one last time." But last time was in June; Laura hadn't been at all knowledgeable at the time. No other high-level incidents had happened since.
"What's the secret?"
"It varies. We'll have to investigate the house itself, figure out which is the most opportune place, and once we know that we can come up with a plan of attack." He plucked a small gun from somewhere in the mess of Kin. "Once that's settled, it's fairly straightforward."
"Can we keep a distance?"
"As usual, all that stands between us is the walls of the house."
In Laura's cheap Third Quarter apartment, the walls were thin enough that she could hear people in other rooms and outside talking. It seemed like little protection.
"Second Quarter houses are better, right?"
"Of course. They're only a step down from First, after all. But if we seriously piss this thing off, a few more inches won't stop it."
If Laura thought about it too much, she'd psych herself out and end up getting herself killed. She had to do something, occupy her hands and her mind. She rolled up her sleeves, took a glance at the briefcase, and asked, "Okay, what else do we need in there?"
Nearly an hour later, their cable car arrived in the Second Quarter. When their cab reached the platform it stuttered to a halt. Everyone else stood slowly, but Laura hopped off the cable car as fast as she could to avoid getting caught by the door. Clae followed more sedately. She could hear his boots on the thin metal grating while she wandered toward the edge.
The cable car station was mostly an open-air platform. Jutting out from the main wall, a metal structure reached up and out to better accommodate the slant of the cable car's ascent. This particular station was only a two-stopper, not a main continuous line throughout the city, so had fewer decorations. The metal was painted rusty red with subtle accents, the platform, ticket booth, and covered seating area lackluster compared to those on the main line. A structure behind the platform housed the machinery used to raise and lower the cars, enclosed and locked to keep away saboteurs. While the main line's platform might have been fancier, the smaller ones had less to get in the way of the view, so Laura could lean on the railing to peer down at the other Quarters.
The city of Amicae rose from the flatlands like a massive tiered cake, First Quarter on top, sitting on the wider Second, which lay above the bigger Third, and so on, all the way down to Sixth Quarter. Job and status determined which Quarter a person lived in: First Quarter the richest, with the best buildings, best shops, best food, best people; Second a step down, still clean and decent; Third Quarter almost a standard of mediocrity; Fourth miserable; Fifth abysmal. Sixth Quarter was the army central, to more easily protect the city and keep the disorderly Fifth in line. From the Second Quarter platform Laura could see clearly how, with each terrace, it grew darker and dirtier. The cable cars rattled up and down their lines all over, shining bronze beetles on wire.
"Laura, this way," Clae called.
Laura jumped and ran after him, making a loud clatter on the metal grate.
Clae led her to a trolley. It was much cleaner than the ones Laura was used to, and much emptier than the cable car. Many seats remained open, with only a middle-aged couple sitting near the back. The man slept, but the woman, in her fancy lilac dress, eyed them like a hawk. Clae stayed standing, gripping one of the rails on the ceiling in one hand, briefcase in the other. Laura didn't know why, but chalked it up to some sort of etiquette of the upper Quarters. She couldn't reach the bar so hesitantly gripped the elbow of Clae's sleeve as the trolley moved off. The woman in the back relaxed, and Laura wondered if she thought they'd soil the seats by sitting down. She also wondered how Clae could possibly wear this big jacket in the sweltering heat.
The ride went by quietly, and Clae directed her off at a corner with a statue of two large birds. The trolley trundled off behind them.
There was a crowd down the street, in front of the row of trendy houses. The black uniforms and silver badges of the police stood out amid the brighter fashions of the residents. The sight made Laura nervous again. As usual, Clae's face betrayed nothing. One of the policemen spotted them and jogged over.
"You're the Sweepers?" he asked hopefully.
A thin scar twisted across the bridge of his nose, skewing to trail under his right eye. He was bald, but between his hat and dark uniform the August heat was making him sweat up a storm. Laura caught a whiff and fell behind Clae, happy to let him take charge.
"We are," Clae answered. "Any change in the situation?"
"Another death. There was a relative. She seemed calm, but the moment we turned our backs ... She got into the house before we could catch her." The policeman mopped his face with a handkerchief. "Got in through the cellar. We tried to pull her out, but the door shut and we couldn't get it open again."
Clae opened his mouth to reply, but a voice cut him off. "Is that the Sweeper?"
A policewoman approached, a gold badge on her uniform instead of silver. She glared at them through thick glasses that magnified her brown eyes, and gestured at the house.
"Get him to work! I've had enough of this crap!"
The policeman looked highly embarrassed. "Please don't mind the chief," he muttered. "We've had a number of calls today and she's a little stressed."
"Pleasant as always, Chief Albright!" Clae called.
He gave a slight, mocking bow, holding his briefcase out to the side. The chief's eyes narrowed further. The little nameplate under her badge did, indeed, wink H. ALBRIGHT, just as the policeman's read W. BAXTER.
"I'm not willing to deal with your sass today, Sinclair," she retorted. "Just take care of this and get the hell out."
As Clae strode toward the building, Laura asked, "You know her?"
"Police of a certain rank have to deal with Sweepers, so they're required to do patrol with us," Clae explained. "She and a group tagged along with me last year, before she was promoted."
"She's only been police chief about as long as I've been apprentice, right? Three months?"
"Sounds right. I'd say she's got more experience than you, but it isn't by much."
Laura pursed her lips as she watched Albright moving more police into position, quelling any arguments as the onlookers were shuffled away. "She seems to have settled into it already."
"They've debriefed her on the situation, so she knows how to carry it out."
Ah, the situation. The situation was laughable.
Laura turned her gaze on the building as well. The house in question appeared nearly identical to all the others on this row. They were tall and thin, like dominoes stacked side to side, and their gently sloping roofs came within inches of brushing their neighbors'. Every roof had dark shingles, but homeowners added their unique flair in the color of siding and trim, this one being pale blue. Three ornate windows lined the front, all of them blocked. A dresser was pushed up against one with drawers facing out, a table's surface was against another with a fabric table runner stuck between, and the last had curtains drawn but something pressed up behind it. The cellar door was in a dip next to the stairs, seemingly harmless.
"What do we do with Mr. Two-Months?" Laura asked, pleased when her nervousness didn't show in her tone.
"We can't break in through the cellar. One person already got through, so it's probably most wary of that. Front door is too obvious. They've learned about front doors. Back doors, too. Not that this district even has back doors. Design flaw, really. It's 1233, you'd think they'd have done something about that."
"The Collective knows about the doors, you mean?"
"Collective, hive, whatever." He looked sideways at her, apparently judging now to be an opportune quiz time. "Considering the hive mind. What to remember?"
"It's not particularly smart, but it picks up on routines," Laura recited. "If Sweepers use the same tactics enough times in a row, it learns to expect that. Since the hive mind shares its knowledge with its offspring, all the monsters will start operating on that information. The further south you get the smarter they are, because they're closer to the hive mind and it's easier to communicate. Being in southern Terual, Amicae is close enough to the source for the creature to be more dangerous, but not so much the intelligent breed of the far south, Zyra."
"You sound like a textbook."
"It's right, isn't it?"
"Correct." His voice fell flat and bored. "This creature was created by the indigenous kingdom," he prompted.
"Created as an anti-magic defense against invading kingdoms during the high age of magic. They lost control of it, and the monsters destroyed the creators and spread northward."
"Textbook," he repeated. "I'm not teaching you for a test. Parroting a book at me isn't going to help you fight these things."
"So long as I can act on the information, what do you care?" Laura challenged, crossing her arms.
"Hettie was book smart but couldn't apply the information. Froze up. Got eaten. I'm not having another apprentice go the same route. We lose far too many people to these monsters."
People including the last police chief.
Laura backed down, uneasy. "You're the one assigning tests in front of an infestation. Let's go beyond the books and backstory. What are we doing with it?" "The unpredictable, to confuse the hive mind."
"How do we do that?"
"My guess is the chimney."
"Are we going to use it like a Pit?"
"It's probably sealed off at the bottom since this Quarter has been converted to central heating, but we can still get it. A chimney here is near twenty feet. We can jump down. It won't expect that."
Laura leaned back and glared at his impassive face.
"Twenty feet." She was sure her voice carried her indignation.
"Yes," he replied, like he didn't see a problem.
"You're expecting me to jump twenty feet down a chimney shaft, into the lair of a monster."
"You, certainly not. I'll take care of this one. Stay back with the police. Maybe if you're with them you can impart some semblance of sense." He turned and walked back toward the police, barking something about a ladder.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "City of Broken Magic"
Copyright © 2018 Mirah Bolender.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. August 1233,
2. The Two-Monther,
3. (This Job Is) The Pits,
4. Silver-Coin Eyes,
5. What Do You Hate?,
6. Silver is not Gold,
8. Stormy Sweeper,
11. Hitting the Grit,
13. Two for One,
15. Gods in the Rabble,
16. Falling Feet-First,
17. The Gin Cycle,
20. Bone Polisher,
22. The Family Business,
23. Sickness in the Earth,
25. A Light in the Dark,
26. Thunder Underground,
27. In the Wake,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was really good! The author skillfully avoids being ensnared by tropes and cliches, and leaves us a great story with a great protagonist.
In this fairly recognizable post-Industrial Revolution world, magic is both friend and foe. Enchanted amulets are useful in all sorts of ways, but let one become empty or damaged, and an infestation of vicious magic, taking the form of a jellyfish-like “monster” will erupt, consuming everything in its path. In the city of Amicae, as elsewhere, Sweepers clear out such infestations, but they are few in number. Two, to be precise, the notorious, irascible, scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold, Clae Sinclair, and his apprentice, Laura. Soon they acquire a third, one of the very few humans to possess innate magic. But the situation in Amicae is unstable, with government propaganda proclaiming that there is no infestation problem and Sinclair’s team fighting an increasingly desperate battle with the odds stacked against them. I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the system of magic and its evil manifestations is reasonably fresh, and I liked the characters a great deal, especially how their relationships evolved over time. On the other hand, I found much of the magical terminology vague and confusing. “Monster” could mean anything from a tyrannosaur to Cookie Monster to a serial killer to a thing-that-goes-bump-in-the-night. I never got a clear visual of these, and I really wish they had a better, more descriptive name. Amorphic, toxic ink-squid would do, amorphs or ATIS for short. Likewise, “Gin” and “kin” (don’t ask me why one is capitalized and not the other; I haven’t a clue) and a host of other terms for magical energy. My biggest disappointment, though, was that I thought the story was setting up for a romance between Laura and Clae. She’s beset by other people in her life who want her to be less than her potential because of her sex, except for Clae, who consistently demands her best and refuses to coddle her. A dozen subtle moments make clear her growing tenderness for him, her compassion for his tortured past, and her maturity within their relationship. Perhaps the author saw that as an easy, predictable outcome, but I relish stories where characters force one another to grow, and then to grow in love. The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about it.
Grreat read hard to put down with a very different take on magic and it's place in a steampunk world. Characters are interesting but still have a lot of room to grow in the series as does the world itself. I look forward to the next installment.
This book was a surprise to me. I was interested because I’d heard it described as being about magical bomb sweepers. What the heck does that even mean?? Turns out that is a pretty accurate description though. Laura is a bomb “Sweeper” in training. She looks for amulets, objects that are imbued with magic that can suddenly turn foul, and erupt in destructive ways, ruining property and killing people. Her city has claimed to be free from all of these bad amulets, but in truth the devices are not only prolific but are also being used by unscrupulous individuals to manipulate and murder. The book is not just a murder/mystery-gotta-catch-’em-all adventure story though. The action itself is spaced out through the book and not very concentrated. As a result, I have noticed that the book has widely varying reviews. This is one of those things you either latch on to or just isn’t for you. Luckily, this book is for me. To my mind it is a book about the far reaching effects of colonization and the subjugation of native people. This magic gone awry is part and parcel of the civilization’s past atrocities. Any colonizing civilization must reckon with the harm it has done sooner or later. This lends a substance to the book which I enjoyed but doesn’t weight it down. I also really enjoyed the characters. Laura is still a bit of an enigma to me. She is a tough young woman for sure, and very driven. It’s an odd society where she is allowed a career but still expected to give it all up when she has a chance to marry a good man, which she has absolutely no intention of doing believe me! Her co-workers are complicated and the world of the Sweepers is interesting. The setting is a sort of Edwardian, turn of the century, sorta steam-punk world, which I always love. It gave me some Witchmark flavor, which was another book I loved this year. I enjoyed this book and there is a cliff hanger that will make hanging on for the next volume a must. Here’s another author I put into my Netgalley auto search rotation! You have to love finding a new favorite! Song for this book: While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Regina Spektor Disclaimer: I received this book free from Netgalley
This one caught my eye because I love stories with interesting magic systems. It didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed Laura, the main character, who is rather all in with regard to her chosen profession. She’s been in awe of sweepers since childhood, even though her own town has been downplaying their need and importance for years. Despite this, she lands an apprenticeship with the rather moody and unpleasant Clae, the head sweeper, and earns her chops on the job. I kept looking for a romance to pop up. There were some hints in certain scenes where perhaps an interest was sparked, but the book ended up being all about the magic and the team of sweepers protecting the city from the infestations. It never went anywhere romantic, not really. The battle scenes in this story are fantastic. The infestations are amorphous, flowing and solid, adaptable, voracious. Each encounter with them highlights just how horrifying they are. Hiding in plain sight in broken amulets. Biding their time until strong enough to feed, on everything. Even the small ones are daunting. There are just enough encounters to really give you a feel for how the sweepers and their gear work against them. One thing I thought missed the mark were the pronunciation hints. The first was for Clae and the second was for Amicae. In the first case, Clae, the correct pronunciation was explained too late for it to stick for me, even though it wasn’t all that far into the book. I kept self-correcting after that point, and it was distracting. For the second, Amicae, a person’s technically correct pronunciation was called out, but it was revealed at the same time that none of the citizens of the city said it that way. That left me in a bind since I had been using the “correct” pronunciation to that point, and the citizens’ pronunciation wasn’t explained. At that point, it was too late to adjust, even had I figured out how Laura would have pronounced it. Finally, the story seems to resolve in a way that might indicate future installments, which I think might be good, but I was left unsure whether this actually would be a first in a series or a straight up standalone. Still, the finale was absolutely gripping, heartbreaking, and eye-widening. It came to life for me. I had a little trouble sleeping that night, and that is a good thing. Fantastic. Overall, I loved this book. I think fans of fantasy and magic will dig it. There are some glimmers of romantic interest, but they flutter away without a second thought. I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
Clae is a professional Sweeper, who gets rid of infestations of nasty beasts who eat magic. Laura is his apprentice, being trained to save the world. More and more infestations with so few Sweepers. Sweepers are non magical humans who act like bomb diffusers. The beasts are smart and once they awake, it's a problem to kill them. Who will stop this before everyone dies? I liked Clae who was arrogant, but knew his business. Laura is young and her immaturity shows. I liked this book, but didn't love it. I received this book from Net Galley and Tor Publishing for a honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.
Ahoy there me mateys! I was excited about this book when I heard about it. The hook - a group of monsters that eat magic and everything else that they can get a hold of. The only thing standing in the way are a group called sweepers. These sweepers are described on Amazon as "bomb squad that defuses magic weapons." The blurb claims that sweepers are non-magical beings and that a sweeper named Laura is all that stands between the city and annihilation. Part of the problem with this book is that the blurb and this descriptions are NOT what the book is about. Laura is not the last sweeper left standing. The sweepers are not non-magical. The sweepers do not feel like a bomb squad at all. The positive things that made me finish the book were: - I loved the characters in this book. The main character, Laura, was intelligent, daring, snarky, and caring. This type of character always floats me boat. I also liked her teacher, Clae, and the other apprentice. I even liked the side characters like Morgan, Laura's aunt who cares about her niece but just doesn't understand anything about her. - I liked the weird monsters and how they manifested. I loved the opening scene told from the monster's point of view. I wanted to know more about the monsters and how they worked. While those things keep me reading, the world-building and plot made it harder and harder to finish the book. Unfortunately, there were major issues that made this an unlikable read for me. - The Monsters - Well this be the entire reason I wanted to read this book. I love me some fierce fighting of nasty beasties. Sadly the fighting was lackluster. There never seemed to be any real tactics for fighting or finding them. The two responses seemed to be throwing bombs at them and running away from them. Luck not strategy seemed to decide every encounter. - The Magic - This was one of those books where ye be thrown into the magic system and have to learn as ye go. There are cool hints to how the magic is used. The main basis for magic use is amulets. I liked the idea that these amulets are highly regulated. They have to be cataloged, recharged, and recycled. However, they also made no sense. For example, if ye use them as an assassination technique there be no guarantee that the target would die. Like why try to kill a rich man by putting one in the kitchen - a place he would never go in? Plus to use one like that means that the city might be destroyed. Dumb. - Info-Dumping - I don't mind learning the world structure or rules as the story progresses. I do hate info-dumping. In this story, the plot abruptly stops so that Laura can give lessons to the other apprentice (a former slave) in history, magic use, politics, etc. And it is furtively done while her teacher is out. I didn't find the history or piecemeal magic explanations to be anything but boring and nonsensical. - Plot - There really wasn't a cohesive story line or decent explanations for events. It felt like the author had filler around the couple of scenes she wanted to write. This book felt more like a very rough first draft that needed massive editing and rewrites. This concept should should have the reader on edge instead of trying to make sense of what is happening most of the time. Fun concepts here. I wish this one would have focused on the monster battles and how the monster fighting community works! Unfortunately it must walk the plank! Arrr!