Ray Lilly is living on borrowed time. He’s the driver for Annalise Powliss, a high-ranking member of the Twenty Palace Society, a group of sorcerers devoted to hunting down and executing rogue magicians. But because Ray betrayed her once, Annalise is looking for an excuse to kill him–or let someone else do the job.
Unfortunately for both of them, Annalise’s next mission goes wrong, leaving her critically injured. With the little magic he controls, Ray must complete her assignment alone. Not only does he have to stop a sorcerer who’s sacrificing dozens of innocent lives in exchange for supernatural power, he must find–and destroy–the source of that inhuman magic.
Ray is an ex-con and he works for the Twenty Palace Society. He made a deal with them and now he works for Annalise, a member of the group and a woman he once betrayed and who now wants him dead. The mission is to find out what is happening in a little town. Childs are disappearing, or more accurately, are being killed by some kind of magic that makes them burn, and then makes people forget that they ever existed. When Ray and Annalise see what happens with their own eyes, they know that what's happening is big and powerful.
When they both arrive at the town, named Hammer Bay, the first thing they do is find out where the toy factory is, because they are pretty suspicious of how toys that are so antiquated are in high demand. As soon as Annalise starts asking questions to the owner, the workers from the factory are somehow controlled and they try to kill both her and Ray. Annalise is severely injured and can't be properly healed by her usual methods, so Ray is left alone to figure out what's wrong in the town and who is responsible.
This is a very dark urban fantasy. Ray is an ex-con who does everything is his power to help Annalise, even though she ignores him most of the time. I liked how he tries his best every time, and when things start to grow worse, he makes the best of them, even though it means that he probably is going to get killed. When people get murdered, he worries about getting back in jail, seeing as how the cops in the little town are also very weird and suspicious. Also, the weapon he uses is unusual but very efficient.
We know that there's a back story to Ray and Annalise, but we don't really find out what it is and only get little glimpses of the issue. Annalise is cold and sees the world through a very narrow mind. She wasn't always that way, but some events from her past made her like that. There isn't a lot of worldbuilding, there was only the town, the characters and all the problems that happen when they are there. The magic is not very flashy, especially the one that Ray has. We don't really know a lot about the Twenty Palace Society and I expect that we're going to find out more about them in future books. Sometimes this book had more horror than fantasy. I didn't have any problems with that, because I like the genre, but some readers might find that it is a little too much. I know some people might start reading it because Jim Butcher recommended it, but I have to say, this is NOT a Dresden novel or anything that resembles it. If you're expecting something exactly liked that series, you're going to be disappointed.
All in all, I loved this book. I think it was a great start of a series that I will definitely follow and I would recommend it to someone who likes very dark urban fantasy, horror and mystery.
I felt a pressure against my chest, just below my right collarbone. Strange. I tried to ignore it and said, “Do you folks need any help?” The woman glanced up, noticing us for the first time. She had a terrified look on her face, but I knew it had nothing to do with Annalise or me. Her husband glanced back as he came out of the backseat. His glasses were smeary from the drizzle. “No,” he said too quickly. “We’re fine.” The pressure against my chest increased. Then their little boy climbed out of the car. He was a good-looking kid, maybe eight or nine years old, although I’m no judge. His hair stuck up in the back, and he had scrapes on both elbows. “I feel funny, Dad,” he said. He laid his hands on his chest and pressed. “I feel squishy.” Flames erupted around his head. I felt light-headed suddenly, and the pressure against my chest vanished. Before I could think about it, I ran toward them, stripping off my jacket. The woman screamed. The flames around the boy’s head spread downward past his crotch. In an instant, his whole body was ablaze..