Things are finally ramping up for a riveting finale in Devon Monk's "Allison Beckstrom" urban fantasy series. The events in the latest book, Magic Without Mercy, barrel toward a blockbuster finish, as it deals with one of the two major plotlines that have spread throughout the entire series. With previous books, as much as I've enjoyed them, I've read them at a nice, leisurely pace. I had to force myself to put this one down and finished it very quickly. Everything about the book absorbs you and won't let you go.
Things look bleak for Allie Beckstrom and her friends, who are on the run from the Authority (the organization that governs all magic use in the world). Allie is wanted for criminal embezzlement and murder, so the police are after her, as well. Meanwhile, the wells of magic scattered around Portland, Oregon, have been poisoned. Any time Allie tries to use magic, she gets violently ill. The only person who may be able to figure out what's going on is Allie's dead father, whose psyche resides inside Allie's head (much to her annoyance). Will they be able to fix things before a user of death magic is able to destroy the antidote?
This entire series has impressed me with how Monk moves from deep character moments that feel true to wonderful action set-pieces. Magic Without Mercy is no different, deftly displaying her wide-ranging abilities as she follows Allie, her lover, Zayvion Jones, Shame, Terric, and so many other characters that you want to learn more about. Allie and Zay's relationship shines off the page. Allie is her usual feisty self, but she is also in an unusual position: those she has looked to for magical guidance in the past are now looking to her for leadership during this crisis.
Things slow down occasionally, allowing the characters to catch their collective breath. This is where Monk's character work shines through. She explores all of these relationships in a way that won't turn off even the most rabid action-junkie. I'm going to be sorry to see these characters go away shortly; I can only see one more book coming in this series, given how this one ends.
The pacing in Magic Without Mercy is probably the best Monk has ever achieved—not a wasted word in the novel, and the transitions between action scenes and character moments are quite effective. The seriousness of the narrative is also punctuated with the humor that these characters bring to the whole thing, which adds to the beautiful pace.
While no book is ever perfect, any flaws in this book are small and unworthy of note.
Magic Without Mercy is the first Beckstrom novel that I would say doesn't stand alone very well. While it's certainly understandable for the new reader with some effort, I would definitely at least start with the previous book. That being said, I would further suggest starting at the beginning. You're in for a treat no matter where you start.