Spellhacker by M. K. England

Spellhacker cover

Title: Spellhacker
Author: M. K. England
Publication date: 2020

Date started: 18/08/2020
Date finished: 20/09/2020

First sentence: “I don’t know why I thought the cops wouldn’t follow me on the roof.”
Last sentence: “I squeeze back and take one long, deep breath. “Yeah,” I say. “I’m ready.””

Summary: Diz lives in Kirkarta, a city mainly known as the origin of the spellplague. Magic used to be ambient and freely available to all, but 10 years ago a contaminated strain of magic spilled in the city and killed millions, before infecting the rest of the world… Since then, magic – or maz – is strictly regulated by the Maz Management Company, and has become quite pricey. Diz and her team of spellplague orphans run illegal syphoning jobs all over the city to make ends meet. Her friends are Remi, a non binary teenager who was infected by the spellplague as a kid but still loves to play with Maz; Ania, a rich kid who uses technological enhancements to manipulate maz; and Jaesin, the fighter and cook of the group. They’re finishing what they think is their last job before the whole group – minus Diz – leaves for the coastal city of Jattapore to start university. They have a whole “Goodbye Kirkarta” week planned, but Diz is very down at the thought of her friends leaving and doesn’t manage to enjoy it. Soon, someone offers them another job and the offer is too tempting to pass, so they have a new final job! The buyer says that during their previous job they accidentally caught a new kind of maz in their syphoning, and that he wants more, so they have to go back to the same spot and find more of that. The others aren’t thrilled about Diz taking a new job for them, but the money is good and the idea of a new maz strain is exciting so they start to get ready! On the day of the job though, everything blows up – literally: the pipe they’re syphoning blows up in their face without warning, and releases another wave of spellplague in the city… They manage to escape unscathed but they are hunted by the police, and Diz fights with the others as she wants to understand what happened. She decides to investigate what caused the explosion, and discovers that the job was a trap: the pipe was rigged to explode in their faces as soon as they took maz from it! After reuniting with their friends and explaining the situation, they investigate some more and discover that the spellplague was a new strain of maz (instead of contaminated maz as is the official explanation), and that most scientists who were working on it were killed by MMC – but the most famous of all, Professor Aric Silva, who was reported dead years ago, seems to still be alive and in hiding. It seems like they caught some of the spellplague maz strain during their previous job, and that MMC decided to kill them to protect their secrets… The group of friends goes to Jattapore to escape the police and try to find Aric Silva – which they do. He lives in a very isolated and protected place with his husband John and he explains to them the origin of the spellplague. MMC got greedy and decided to dig further and further in the earth to get more maz, until they pierced the core which released the spellplague, as well as disrupted the planet in many ways (earthquakes and hurricanes are very common), but they never stopped and are still digging. Diz and her friends decide to take down the drill that is causing all the problems! She asks help from her cousin who works at MMC, Davon, and she uses all the info about the MMC board she hacked over the years to blackmail them into giving her the codes to stop the machinery. While they infiltrate the MMC facilities, Davon turns on her “for her own good” but they still manage to go through with the plan and to stop the drill. Also, Diz and Remi get together after a whole book of mutual pinning!

Opinion: I have some pretty complicated feelings about this book! On one hand, it was one of my favorite book of the year, and I even commissioned some art of myself which includes this book! On the other hand, some of the pacing of the writing was uncomfortably bad and overall it just felt like it should have gone through a few more rounds of editing before being published.
But let’s start with the positive! I loved the universe, which mixed magic and technology – and a very cool elemental type of magic at that! I loved the plot overall, and the fact that it was very queer, and an overall criticism of capitalism and its impact on the environment. Also a story of found family with a diverse cast made up of hackers, wizards and cooks? I mean, yes I’m sold!! My very favourite thing in this book though was Remi – a non binary and chronically ill character. I read this book just after being diagnosed as chronically ill and becoming immuno deficient and getting a ton of fatigue, and also I’m non binary, so Remi was my support character like I’ve never had a support character before! It was so good to see them having so many things in common with me, and they landed in my life just at the time when I needed them most, so I’m really thankful for this book for this!
Now, about the problems I had with this book… I think a lot of the huge plot twists and revelations were great but then the characters don’t react to them at all, or react to them way too late or too little, which can really throw the reader off. The main character, Diz, has a lot of anxiety and resentment towards her friends, but unfortunately even though the story is from her point of view, we’re not explained where most of her feelings come from, which creates frustration because we keep seeing she’s mad at people but we just don’t understand why?… Her overall motivations and feelings are very unclear, but their consequences are constantly repeated (eg. we don’t know why she doesn’t want to move to another city with her friends, but she still spends the full book lamenting that they’re leaving her and that she can’t follow), which at least for me created a lot of frustration, as well as a lack of connection / empathy with the main character. And one last thing, which was also pretty annoying for someone like me who really loves to picture what I’m reading, we only got character descriptions very late in the book for many of them, for instance the main character is only described around page 280, by which time I had made my own idea of what she looked like…
So overall, so many great ideas in this book, but it should have gone through a bit more editing before publishing, and it’s too bad it didn’t because it could have been *perfect*.

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