Ashes of Onyx by Seth Skorkowsky is the first of a new series by an author I’ve very much enjoyed the previous works of. I’m a huge fan of the Valducan series, which is a set of novels following multiple protagonists wielding magic demon-slaying weapons. I’m also a Tales of the Black Raven fan, which is a collection of compiled short stories featuring a master thief. Finally, I love Seth Skorkowsky’s many Youtube series that were winners of an ENnies Award last year for best game reviews.
Kate Rossdale is a failed magus, having lost all of her sorcery in a horrific accident that destroyed her tower. This is an urban fantasy version of Earth where humans have Hermetic orders of sorcerers with some references to Aleister Crowley. Kate has been reduced to identifying magical artifacts for collectors in order to fund her drug habit, using dust to substitute for the feeling of sorcery at her fingertips. Kate’s life gets a chance to get back on track, however, when a mysterious benefactor offers her the chance to regain her magic in exchange for being bound to do him a favor of immense value. From there, they find themselves visiting other dimensions and challenging sorcerous overlords.
I really enjoyed this book, that reminded me a bit of Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow series with its mixture of 1970s-esque psychedelic dimensions, the use of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and its flawed antiheroes. Kate Rossdale is an intriguing heroine and I liked watching her struggle with her addiction and her constant attempt to rationalize why she wasn’t an addict. She recovered her powers a bit too quickly but this helped underscore that her problems with dust went beyond a mere need to feel magic again.
The universe is a fascinating one that manages to be both believable as well as utterly fantastic. The Earth is just one small planet in a very big multiverse of dimensions with ancient cities and extra-planar decisions that exist parallel to our world. It reminded me a bit of Planescape when our heroes arrive in a city on a flat disc and their chief concern is what they’re going to do for money. Cute moments like when our heroes exchange Coca Cola for a fairly large chunk of gold are things that make this novel stand out to me.
The supporting cast is fine with a mixture of misfits and survivors from the destroyed Onyx Tower. Wizard politics mostly exist in the background but are clearly defined and written out so you never lose track of what’s going on. Many people blame Kate for the fall of her house (including herself) but there’s a complicated weave of relationships that makes me think Seth Skorkowsky could easily expand this into a full-fledged series. If I have any complaints, the villain is a tad generic and I would have been liked to know more about her background as well as motivations.
This is a solid urban fantasy for the first half that switches into a full-fledged fantasy novel for the latter. There are some truly satisfying moments here like Kate’s “wizard duel”, the romance developed midway through the book, and also the final confrontation with Kate’s chief tormentor. I think this is a great novel and if you’re looking for a good mage book then you could do a lot worse.