The Black Market
By: Sharon Kurack
Allow me to begin with a small disclaimer that I have not read The Day of First Sun, which is the first book in Sheryl Steines’ “Wizard Hall Chronicles,” so I will be reviewing The Black Market as a stand-alone story. As the second installment of the “Wizard Hall Chronicles,” The Black Market delves deeper into not only the relationship of the main protagonists Annie Pearce and Bobby “Cham” Chamsky, but also into the theme of two worlds (Magical and Nonmagical) blended together and how that blend can affect us all.
Trouble seems to find Annie wherever she goes and there are no exceptions in this story. This time the trouble centers around what would appear to be a cursed ring found on the body of a John Doe in the middle of Busse Park, Chicago. From there we are led into the grey area between the Magical and Nonmagical World. It turns out that this ring is not only seemingly cursed to whoever wears it, but is also The Ring of King Solomon and has immense magical power. Although it had been presumed lost, it turns up on the body of a man who had come from the Black Market, a place where “magicals” all over the world deal in the buying and selling of all magic-related items. (Think Diagon Alley, but on a much larger scale. Also, get ready for a few references to Harry Potter as some aspects reminded me of the J.K. Rowling series.)
Why is one dead body with the cursed ring of a Biblical (and historical) king such a big deal? Who killed said body and with what motive? A very complex and layered murder mystery that ends up being a lot larger than one dead body is soon uncovered.
If you’re looking for a murder mystery with a grown-up Harry Potter flair, then this is definitely up your Diagon Alley. The themes of “magic comes with a price” and “keeping the magical world secret from Nonmagicals” are ever-present, as well as some historical/Biblical names to add authenticity. Fast-paced and detailed when necessary, The Black Market is a quick read, filling in information from The Day of First Sun as needed, just in case you had forgotten (or are reading as a standalone). This fill-in of information; however, is not made of paragraphs, but of quick recaps to keep you in the loop with the action of the story.
The Black Market centers around the actual market and its significance in both worlds. When a scheming Djinn takes control of the market with his pawns, the balance is upset and threatens the exposure of the magical world, which (of course) would not be a good thing. Bring in the Wizard Guard to attempt a cover up, but instead they stumble upon more questions, bodies and past connections. Specifically, add the past connection to the case of Jason Pearce’s (Annie’s father) death, as well as an unknown and dangerous Illuminati-like Fraternitatem that are hell-bent on retrieving this ring, and it’s one big mystery that will eventually take beyond this book to unravel.
As for the point of view, the book takes on the third-person omniscient, which brings us into the minds of each character we encounter. While it can be a bit confusing at times as there are a lot of characters to remember, keeps the points of view detailed with the main protagonists and antagonists. Thoughts, feelings, and reactions are given from the main “players,” allowing us to have a bit of insight as well as emotional detail of what is going on. A lot of the time, we are treated to the inside thoughts of Annie’s mind, especially when she has a gut feeling about something. It gives the reader that breath to take to also think about the story and its details.
What the author also does with this technique is use thoughts and memoirs of characters who have passed, as well as the past of the characters written in diary form. These snippets are a different way to not only tell the story, but also tell the story in a way that doesn’t necessarily interrupt the flow as a whole.
Steines does an amazing job connecting the audience to her characters and plot, filling in questions as the characters find them out. She also utilizes flashbacks with the ring to keep the audience one step ahead of the protagonists. Sometimes when reading stories in which the author utilizes the flashback you can get a bit confused with memory versus present day time, but that was not the case with this book. The flashbacks were used early on to give history and if you took notes as you read, you solved part of the mystery before the characters did.
What really endeared me about this book was the character relationships that developed. The main relationship was the romantic one between Cham and Annie. Within the first few chapters, you could tell there was a definite connection beyond chemistry. These two individuals were in love and most definitely passed the “honeymoon stage.” At the end of the book, the author writes about how she wanted to write their story at first as a love story and this love story is definitely seen in The Black Market. Cham and Annie have one of the most tender, loving and supportive relationships. They make the each better and would do absolutely anything to ensure the safety of the other. Not only are they in such a powerful, healthy relationship, but they remain both a couple yet individuals at the same time. This is extremely important as many stories do not show relationships where both parties do not lose themselves in the relationship.
Another important relationship that jumped out at me was the one between the character of Gibbs and Annie. These two have a familial, paternal type of relationship that reminds me of Abby and Gibbs from “NCIS.” Steines’ Gibbs is a seemingly stoic older gentleman who relies on his prowess and knowledge to survive. After witnessing the many encounters of Annie and Gibbs, it is clear that the former cares for the latter as though she were his own daughter and vice-versa. You see this when comparing the times he actually calls her by name (the urgent, usually life or death times) versus normal, where he calls her “girl.”
There’s also the relationship between Annie and the “supernatural” creatures of the book – Bitherby the elf and Zola, her family’s Aloja fairy. With the elf, Annie is more maternal, very similar to Hermione or Harry Potter with Dobby (Seriously, I pictured Dobby the whole time). With Zola, the roles are reversed, having the fairy be more like a mother to Annie and loyal to a fault.
Along with the layered story line, the character relationships make this a quick and interesting read. The characters aren’t necessarily your typical “Mary Sue” characters, either. They are all complex and have a purpose. Also worth noting is the LGBT friendliness where you have not one, but two minor LGBT couples in the book. (Worth noting because a lot of books seem to not have this diversity.)
Throughout the book you are constantly guessing at the major plot points and continue to do so until the climax where we see the ultimate destruction of the Black Market itself and the aftermath. You are constantly guessing the identity of the John Doe killed at the beginning, to the identity of John Doe’s killer, to the identity of who was in charge of the Black Market and finally to the nature of the intentions of the Fraternitatem.
For such a huge, hidden part of the world, what will be the aftermath of the destruction of the Black Market? The Wizard Guard was able to keep tabs on illegal transactions when they knew where to find them. Now, with the market gone, the possibility of smaller, more hidden markets arise. This gives more headaches to the Wizard Guard and, ultimately, the Nonmagicals that do know of the magical world. We are lead on this journey that is promised to continue in the next book.
That being said, I am extremely excited to read not only the next installment of the Wizard Hall Chronicles,” but also the first book. Annie Pearce is a very strong female character and it is nice to see her as flawed, strong minded, tender, relate-able, and human. Actually, as I read I tend to cast characters with favorite actors and actresses. In Annie’s case, I saw her being played by either Melanie Scrofano (from “Wynonna Earp”), for her snark, smile and strength or by Chyler Leigh (from “Supergirl”) for her compassion, tenderness and badassery.
All in all, if you’re into a book that does an amazing job mixing reality with fantasy The Black Market is definitely worth your time. In fact, I quite enjoyed this book so much I would recommend reading the series as a whole. Even if fantasy and the supernatural aren’t your cup of tea necessarily, I would still consider giving this one a try, as it has a complex, twisting story line shrouded in mystery.