The Constabulary is my personal favorite among Maresca's interconnected Maradaine series. There's law, disorder, magic, politics, spies, and a dash of sarcasm. Satrine Rainey is a former Druth Intelligence agent who needs a decent job to support her family after her husband, a detective inspector, is nearly killed and left comatose. She appealed to the chief of the Constabulary for help and he offered her the poorly paying position of clerk because they don't hire women as Inspectors. So she calls upon her former training and forges a new letter offering her the position she wants in her old neighborhood of Inemar. Minox Welling is a young inspector with a highly analytical mind whose dogged pursuit of the truth annoys his fellow Inspectors leaving him free to partner with Rainey. Welling is also an untrained mage because his gift developed too late to be accepted to either of the mage schools. Which proves to be a problem on their first case together, investigating what appears to be the ritual sacrifice of a mage.
Hard Magic kicks off the Grimnoir Chronicles which turns out to be a difficult series to categorize. It takes elements of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk, and Alternate History and mashes them all into a noir style story worthy of a graphic novel. None of that really sounds like my kind of thing but I found this book compelling right from the start. Set in the 1930s, this alternate history has 1% of the population with some kind of magical ability, and the strongest of them are known as Actives. The World War is over, alcohol is still illegal in the US, and Jake Sullivan is down on his luck just trying to get out the hole he finds himself in. A former war hero and ex-con, Jake just has one more job to do for the government before his debt to society is paid and then he can go on with his life as a private investigator. Jake is also a Heavy, a powerful Active capable of manipulating gravity, so it is unlikely that the US government is just going to let him walk away when this job is over...
As this series approaches the finale some interesting bits of information are revealed that change the way you will view some of the main characters, none more so than Gavin Guile. No character arc has been more full of surprises than Gavin's and the revelations about his past in this book finally explain why he is known as the Black Prism. Gavin is in a bad spot for sure, but he may yet play a key role in shaping the future of this world, but not for the reasons you think. He also isn't the only main character shaping up to be a major player in the outcome of the war as Andross, Kip, and Karris all find themselves jockeying for position in order to influence things to their preference. One thing is for certain, this book sets things up for a conclusion to the series that will be hard to predict.
Lore Vetinari, ruler of the city-state of Anhk-Morpork, has a problem that he must address immediately. The Postal Service in his city has become rather rundown and technological innovation seems to be leaving it behind. The Clacks, a type of visual telegraph system, allows people to send messages across great distances almost instantly, so nobody wants to use the Post Office any longer. Vetinari won't stand for this in his city, so he does what any shrewd ruler would do and offers the job of Postmaster General to a con-man who is on death row. After all, who better to breathe new life into a dying institution?
Zane is not a successful person and when things finally get too rough for him he decides it is time to take his own life. As he starts to pull the trigger he notices the Grim Reaper coming for him and he instead turns the gun on Death himself and shoots him right between the eyes. Wow, Zane just cheated death, finally a lucky break right? Not exactly. This is when Fate pays Zane a visit and explains that the rules dictate that whoever kills Death takes over the job. This means Zane is in store for some immediate on the job training.
Gavin Guile is technically still the Prism, but unfortunately he is not capable of fulfilling the needs of his office in any way. Once the most powerful man alive he now finds himself an oar slave aboard a galley out at sea and even if he were to find a way to escape it really wouldn;t matter much. After all he can no longer draft any color of magic after being stabbed with the Blinding Knife for a second time and what value is a Prism that can't draft? None at all which means he isn't even a valuable hostage. Things can't really get any worse for Gavin Guile at this point can they? Oh yes indeed, they most certainly can...
Suddenly everyone wants the prostitute Clara, but not for her professional skills. She was kidnapped and locked in a warehouse with a man because someone knows her secret; that she's a shapeshifter in a city where magic use is illegal for humans. Drugged and unable to control herself she killed that man and now every bounty hunter in town is after her. She has fled into the complex Labyrinth surrounding town and one old woman is determined to save her. In reality Clara is simply the bait in an elaborate trap that is the next move in a plan to take over the universe. Too bad failure was only part of the plan.
Book two of the Lightbringer series picks up right where The Black Prism left off, which means things are in a bad state for Gavin Guile. After losing the battle against the Color Prince, the Seven Satrapies are now only six in number and Gavin is on the run with boatloads of refugees. This alone would be a major issue for anyone, but for Gavin it is only one of many. His tenure as the Black Prism is in jeopardy for many reasons, but none more dire than the fact that he has lost access to the color blue. This ultimately means that he is dying.
Aside from some of the ancient sagas what we now call grimdark fantasy kicked off in 1984 with two books, The Black Company by Glen Cook and Legend by David Gemmel. Rather than follow the anti-heroes, Gemmel wanted to explore why and how people can choose to stand before overwhelming odds to fight for their beliefs. From the beginning the reader is told that its a hopeless fight. One well built but neglected fortress with nine thousand poorly trained defenders protecting their empire from half a million barbarian warriors. The dying nobleman in charge sends two desperate calls for help. He sends to the White Temple for the Thirty, a band of psychic warrior monks willing to die for the right cause, and to his old comrade in arms, the famed Druss the Legend who has never lost a battle.
Brent Weeks serves up a complex magic system based on the colors of the spectrum and he does it in a story that unfolds in provocative ways. Magic users, called drafters, use their powers to turn light into various effects based on color. This magical system, known as Chromaturgy, allows multiple colors of light to be combined in interesting ways, and for each drafter to have different skills based on their personal color abilities. There are also meaningful downsides to using this power, which makes a person's ability to draft a mixed blessing at best. The color spectrum is not only fundamental to the magic system, but also the religious and political systems as well, and all three are at the heart of the conflict that unfolds. As each layer of the story is revealed it picks up in both momentum and complexity, and it rewards you for paying attention to the details.