I'm always intrigued when authors I've read in adult fiction turn their attention to the YA realm. I've only read one other Estep YA and felt like I had a lot of catching up to do with this novel. The protag was so familiar - if you've read Estep's ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series, this is Teen Gin, I kid you not - but what is kind of shrug-worthy/acceptable in an adult character like Gin is sometimes off-putting in a young adult character - which is weird. I guess in my head, the adults have years of reasons for bitterness and snark; the teens... seem to need more explanation, which is totally unfair, because they don't, it's not as if young feelings aren't real, but I like what I like and I didn't like Lila Merriweather at first. It took me awhile to get into this novel, but once in, the fast-paced action made it fly by.
Summary: Lila is slick-like-Teflon, hard-nosed and deft and all of those things work to her advantage, living as a thief in a city full of rubes like Cloudburst Falls, "the most magical place in America," "Where fairy tales are real." Due to the bloodiron mines there, it's full of magic, sure, thus the tourists Lila fleeces for a living. There's a zoo full of carefully penned scary creatures, a gigantic midway, ice cream and boardwalks and it's all a perfect place for a fantastic summer vacation, 'til the tourists see the monsters aren't always carefully caged ... but they always come back. Rubes, right? Lila only has a little magic, but it's enough for her to eke out a living on the very bottom of society. Her fence, Mo, helps her negotiate the crazy-complicated world of Cloudburst Falls - run entirely by a magical Mob. If you're not Family, you're not anybody. The Draconi, Sinclair and Ito families are the cream-of-the-top. And Lila hates them all. They are responsible for her mother's death, and she'd just as happily see them fight each other to bloody extinction -- but when a fight truly comes her way, she's in before her heart can say no. She's saved a guy's life -- and in return, she's pressed into serving his family as a bodyguard. It's not the type of job where people live very long -- and Lila doesn't want it to begin with. But, there's more to this job - and to this Family - than Lila expected.
Peaks: The novel is fast-paced, has a smidgen of diversity and the hope for more, and the myriad "new things per page" which make a novel sing. I like the creatures, especially. I mean, tree trolls and a lochness seem like something from a really fun video game. Add dialogue and characters to my game, and color me happy.
The secondary characters are really well built -- there are no wallpaper people, despite the fact that there's a long and ridiculous history of "the Mob" in the entertainment media, and the Family in this book stays close to type, especially Victor Draconi. But, thanks to Lila's extra senses, we get more than we expected from the characters - even the Pixies have personalities.
Valleys: Lila, as previously mentioned, is kind of a hardcase. It may be difficult to like her - but don't let that stop you from reading. The novel echoes much of the author's style, and you may find yourself thinking you're reading a novel you've read before, in terms of the tough-but-tender protagonist characterization, etc. Hopefully, Lila will continue to differentiate herself.
Don't be surprised if you guess the major villain in the novel - it's basically child's play, but I think that's nothing we need to worry about - because he's only the tip of the iceberg, and this is a first book in a series.
Conclusion: This is gigantic-tub-of-buttered-popcorn type of a book - just that slightest bit addictive, fast-moving, and you'll crunch through 'til the end and find yourself groping around for more. Hopefully, the wait won't be too long!
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Kensington Teens via NetGalley. After April 28th, you can find COLD BURN OF MAGIC by Jennifer Estep at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!