Spell Blind is the first novel in a new series by veteran and prolific author David B. Coe, and introduces us to Justis Fearsson, a homocide cop-turned private eye, who is also a ‘weremyste’ a practitioner of magic. Urban Fantasy with magic-using law enforcement seems to be another ‘thing’ these days, but Coe keeps it fresh with an interesting take on magic, and a more realistic feel for Justis. In a time where it seems modern day magic users are either hard-boiled or grizzled to the extreme or trying too hard to be super earnest, Fearsson is exactly the right balance of wizard, dude and actual cop to make this book land where others feel forced. Some of my usual issues with treatments of magic in the present day linger around, but overall a series I would stick with.
Justis Fearsson is a private investigator on the trail of a serial killer in Phoenix, Arizona. Justis is also a weremyste—a person with a wizard’s gifts and the ability to see into the paranormal world. Unfortunately, weremystes also tend to go crazy on the full moon—which is why Justis is no longer a cop. Hard to explain those absences as anything but mental breakdown. But now an old case from his police detective days has come back to haunt him, literally, as a serial killer known as the Blind Angel strikes again. His signature stroke: burning out the victims’ eyes with magic. Now the victims are piling up, including the daughter of a senator, and Justis must race to stop the Blind Angel before he, she, or it kills again. There’s only one clue he’s got to go on: the Blind Angel is using the most powerful magic Justis has ever encountered, and if he doesn’t watch his own magical step, he may end up just as dead as the other vics.
It seems to be a recurring theme in urban fantasy that it is somehow vitally important that in spite of the fact that magic is, at its root, incredibly splashy and visible, it be a plot point that most people don’t know there is magic/magical creatures/whatever. It allows the fact that the protagonist uses magic to become an easy plot point later as people discover it, or they try to hide it. I don’t buy it. There’s so much visibility of -everything- in the present day, that hiding something as serious as actual legitimate magic seems high impossible. Given how high-profile people are who are only very convincing illusionists (Criss Angel, David Blaine, etc) I just don’t accept that every single person who can use magic have all decided to keep it a super secret and never do anything which would prove it exists. Of course, the other side, which you see really clearly with Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble novels, would be the discrimination, hostility, and quite probably outright efforts at extermination that magic users would face from a panicked population. But it’s not just Justis who can use magic, even in one city. There are dozens of practitioners of magic that we see ourselves over the course of one novel in one city. Add to that the quirk of Coe’s particular system, and the idea that this stays under the radar also seems unrealistic.
The quirk I’m talking about is that Justis is a weremyste, with the were- prefix working like it does with werewolves as well. During the nights of the full moon, a weremyste is both dramatically more powerful and also basically insane. This insanity ends up coming to the point where anybody who stays a practitioner long enough is likely to become insane permanently. How you can combine ‘out of control’ and ‘maximally powerful’ in somebody who can make fireballs and still ask us to accept that most people don’t know magic exists is pretty absurd. That said, if you remove that facet of the life of a weremyste, the system itself is actually really interesting. Rather than fall back on the whole system of learning and memorizing spells, or channelling energies in certain ways, magic in Coe’s world is more just a function of will and effort. Fearsson casts spells by connecting three concepts and empowering them with his will, and he can pretty much do whatever he is able to make himself do. To basically think to yourself ‘my fist, your face, a solid punch’ and have that work like you just got punched in the face is a neat way to handle it. It lends itself to a certain degree of abuse if it were just completely open, so there are obviously some limits which seem mostly bounded by general power level and amount of training. It has a lot of potential and I’m curious to see where Coe brings it next as Fearsson becomes stronger and gets a little more training. I wonder what happens if you go for ‘my cells, their ageing, stopping’ for example, but who knows!
The other element of Spell Blind is that Fearsson is a private investigator and used to be a cop. Another sort of ‘theme de jour’ of the past few years as fantasy blends into other genres. I wonder what it is about the combination that seems to draw so many authors. Part of me thinks it might actually find its roots in the desire for law enforcement to be able to be more effective, to actually catch serial killers and mass murderers in a timely way. What better way to shore up the incredibly difficult job of the homicide and major crimes detectives than the ability to use divination magic and concealment spells after all! I also think that’s why I always find the concealment of the magical powers to be so unbelievable. Nobody’s exact actions and following of procedures are scrutinized as closely as those of an investigating detective during a serial killer’s trial. As soon as you gathered some key evidence with magic, either everybody knows about magic, or you’ve let a killer walk. That’s something I’d really like to see happen in a future Justis Fearsson novel: Either prove in a court of law he can do magic, or watch a killer go free.
Altogether, this was an enjoyable book. Fearsson was an interesting guy who had his own stuff going on. He wasn’t a stoic hard-boiled cop and he wasn’t some loose cannon vigilante. He’s a PI now but he does his best to still work like a cop. His supporting cast are well-designed characters that have a good amount of meat to them without constantly dropping out of the narrative to flesh out backstory, and I get the feeling we’ll be slowly finding out more about them as the series continues. There’s currently nothing I can find about when we might next see Justis, but I’ll be keeping an eye out. If you’ve read and enjoyed any other ‘magic cop’ novels like Justin Gustainis’ Hard Spell, or Kevin J. Anderson’s Death Warmed Over, you should keep an eye out too.