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A sentient sword. An artifact collector. A whole world of trouble.
My name is Harlow Fletcher, and I’m a charm collector.
As the daughter of bounty hunters, I know more about the criminal underbelly than the average citizen of Luma, California. But when my dad’s work got him killed, and my mom skipped town, I swore off the profession for myself. Instead, I fell into the lucrative gig of freelance charm collecting. I have a knack for finding rare artifacts, namely illegal magic-laced weapons, and I use that skill to sneak into criminals’ homes after the police have carted them off for their latest infractions. Once I’ve helped myself to the contraband, I sell it to the highest bidder.
While looting my latest victim, a gorgeous sword catches my eye. I regret my decision to steal the sword within minutes: the weapon is alive. It’s lightning-quick, has an anger management problem, and refuses to leave me alone.
When the sword takes off one day, I think it’s finally out of my life for good—yet, in less than twenty-four hours, the police are at my door, accusing me of murder. While I’m in the middle of explaining that I didn’t commit the crime, the diabolical sword floats into my apartment, covered in blood.
Now we’re on the run, with bounty hunters and government-trained feline shifters hot on our trail. Proving my innocence is going to be a lot harder with the sentient murder weapon by my side—especially when I might be next on its hit list …
The gorgeous cover made me pick up this book.
Maybe you’ve been burned by beautiful covers before. I know I have. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve started reading because of eye-catching covers only to find the pages inside failed to live up to the cover art. But happily that isn’t the case with Diabolical Sword. The story is every bit as awesome as the cover promises.
There’s a lot to like about Diabolical Sword, and a huge point in its favor is the worldbuilding. Like in many urban fantasy novels, magic is hidden from most of the world’s population. But that doesn’t matter since most of the action in set in a magical hub city that’s hidden from the mundane world.
These cities are safe havens for elves, goblins, and other magical beings who got stranded in the human world many years earlier when portals to other realms collapsed. Luma, the hub city in California where the story takes place, is a fascinating and detailed setting.
(And yes, there’s a map of the city in the book.)
Luma has modern technology like any other place in the US, though there are magical alternatives and improvements for some things. One example is the telepad stations. Forget taking the subway. Wait in line, swipe a card, and then get instantly teleported to any other station in the city. (Granted, there’s a slight risk of the teleportation spell giving out and the traveler arriving missing a body part.)
There are fae lights instead of mundane electricity, and while everyone has cell phones, telepost is safer if you don’t want your communication tracked. (You can even set your message to disintegrate after a certain period of time.)
But all this magical technology is grounded in realism. Telepad stations are expensive to maintain, so the ones in lower-income neighborhoods are dingy and often out of order. The wait to send a message by telepost is as tiresome as standing in line at any mundane post office.
And you should know about a few other drawbacks before visiting Luma.
The city is ruled by the Collective, a shadowy group of sorcerers so secretive nobody even knows the number of their members. The Collective’s werecat guards who police the city don’t have the citizens’ best interests at heart, and there’s a lot of inequality. Humans with no magic—like the heroine—are especially vulnerable.
Harlow Fletcher, the heroine on the gorgeous cover, calls herself a charm collector—which basically means she steals magical artifacts and sells them on the black market. I love morally gray protagonists, especially in worlds ruled by shady governments like the Collective. And while Harlow often sells artifacts to the highest bidder, she also uses her skills to help the community, such as giving magical weapons to humans living in dangerous areas so they can protect themselves.
The second most important character is the diabolical sword from the title. A sentient dragon sword, it can’t talk, but it can fly around and murder people on its own, and Harlow works out a basic communication system by having it tap once or twice for yes or no.
The lack of speech doesn’t stop the sword from being a total drama queen, utterly wrecking everything nearby when someone dares insult it. Seriously, it has so much personality. One of my favorite parts of the book is Harlow’s journey from being terrified of the sword to snarking at it in annoyance and ultimately allying with it.
The supporting cast is all well-developed and entertaining. There’s Harlow’s badass BFF Kayda, her ex-boyfriend who currently works as a bounty hunter for the Collective (yikes), and some allies she makes while fighting the Collective whom I won’t say much about to avoid spoilers. They all have their own unique personalities and motivations, though Kayda is the only one Harlow fully trusts.
While the worldbuilding is great, my one complaint is that it bogs down the pacing of the story in the beginning. If you start this book and think some of the earlier chapters are slow, I encourage you to keep reading. The plot really kicks off once Harlow is framed for murder.
The blood-drenched sword that floats into her apartment while it’s being searched by the werecat guards is bad. The video of her murdering someone with the sword (while she was actually asleep) that the Collective circulates on the news is worse.
It’s such a great, tension-filled setup. Accused of murder, Harlow is forced to go into hiding. She can’t even walk the streets without fear of someone recognizing her and calling the werecat guards. As an ordinary human, she has no magic that can help her—just a grumpy sentient sword that likes to stab first and let Harlow ask questions later.
But Harlow is resourceful and has a network of allies from her charm collector job. She has to use all her skills to figure out A) who the sword murdered and why, and B) why the Collective wants the sword so badly.
No spoilers, but it’s a gripping, action-packed story.
The ending is perfect, bringing resolution to the main plot but still leaving questions to be answered later in the series. The sequel, Wicked Treasure, just came out last month, and it’s also excellent.
If you’re an urban fantasy fan, you should add Diabolical Sword to your to-read list ASAP. The unique world, awesome heroine, and thrilling plot make it an excellent addition to the genre.