Here's the blurb:
For Alys Kinnear, becoming a wizard was her life's ambition, but it's an ambition that might just cost her her life. Does a country girl from Éire have what it takes to handle the dangerous and inglorious realities that come with being a practitioner in the magic-infused modern day city of London?
She quickly finds herself confronted by street thugs trying to steal her new employer's property and a client whose home turns out to be a former asylum filled with the angry ghosts of former patients. With her new Familiars, a pair of snow leopards she rescued from an unscrupulous shop owner, Alys must overcome these and the more mundane day-to-day difficulties of studying to become a full-fledged Wizard.
Because before she expects it, she'll find herself tested in ways she never imagined.
With the exception of about 10% of the prose feeling like an infodump (although they are all uniformly fascinating infodumps, if you don't count the Prologue, which is a bit clunky :), the book had a lovely flow that completely drew me into the world. The style is engaging and easy to read and the pacing / structure has a nice feel of a series of connected short stories with short pauses in between, so I had a chance to reflect on each story and enjoy the break before diving into another one. Each story gives us interesting mysteries and puzzles, which involve a tangible sense of danger and tension. In addition to these short stories, there are the hints at a larger mystery, but those hints never dominate the novel and it's a welcome change to read a more relaxed structure like this. Sanofsky has unified so many different fields (e.g., paranormal studies, mythology and folklore, religion, technology, a recognizable alternate history, language, weaponry, economics) into one cohesive universe that it's utterly fascinating...and although we only get the smallest sliver in this book, there's so much more hinted at that I found myself thinking about the implications of the ideas even when I wasn't reading the book. The treatment of magic as an everyday phenomenon, intertwined with an intelligent development of social, political, legal, and economic implications, is first-rate.
The author does all of this without leaving me feeling like he's treading over old ground, and a great deal of that is due to the strong female character, Alys, who acts as the narrator, and her relationship with her two familiars, Athena and Artemis. Athena is a humanoid catgirl, but the author never lets her become a mere fetish. She's a strong character in her own right. The relationship between the three of them is fascinating and it's amazing how quickly the author had me believing in the instantaneous connection. They feel utterly comfortable with one another, although all still distinct. Alys is simply a strong character, intelligent and well-adjusted and ambitious, dealing with the problems thrown at her with more or less skill, learning as she goes. The relationship with her familiars takes a lot of the pressure off her to have a Romance Plot, which is so refreshing! This novel does not feel like a setup for Yet Another New Teen Paranormal Romance. Alys's mentor Hollis gives us a nice preview of the kind of life that Alys aspires to lead, and it doesn't necessitate a romantic partner or raising a family (although it doesn't exclude it, either)...and yet Sanofsky achieves this for Alys without making her an Angry Young Woman or giving her some other emotional handicap where she seems "strong" on the outside but is really fragile and dependent on the inside.
I fell in love with the characters and I was intrigued by the world and more than once while reading this book I got annoyed by the fact that I had to stop reading it and go deal with real life, because I really wanted to find out what happened next.
There are so many other things about this book that I loved (Airships! Master Tremane! Snarky cat humor!), but go read it! Find out for yourself. :)