This is my second time reading Ghost Garages this year, an unusual event for me, but my reaction is the same in that I enjoyed the story a lot…enough to have already recommended it to my sister who loves urban fantasy. Though I knew what was coming this time, the story kept me engaged and had lovely connections to the novella Dreamwalker I received through the author’s newsletter and read more recently.
Urban fantasy has grown to be a broad genre, but this novel has some fun elements that are rare if not unique. The main character, Pepper, is a single mom of twins with a magic that functions through technology rather than despite it. I quite enjoyed the mix of magical and normalcy. In the midst of a magical crisis affecting all of Boston, she has to manage childcare, her children’s wish for a more traditional family, and her ex-boyfriend/kids’ father pressuring her for the same. That’s not even mentioning the stress of her mother feeling she’s wasting her life, or the job pressure from a competitive coworker and a flaky boss.
The contempt and suspicion of the other Boston witches she knows felt a little overblown, but more in a “get over yourselves” or “open your eyes” way than because it was unrealistic. I’ve known people who would react exactly like that, ignoring how Pepper is struggling to save the whole city by herself so they can persist in believing her the cause, and if not because of a deliberate act, then it has to be accidentally her fault.
As if that isn’t enough, she has to balance cryptic speeches from a Lung dragon who happens to be the twins’ godfather and demands from other magical creatures she didn’t even know existed until her first encounter with the ghost near her home. I loved the trolls in the T mainly because they were so very not human, and the description of how the world functioned around them in blissful ignorance despite avoiding where they stood in a crowded station felt very real.
Then there’s the muse, who isn’t her muse, but who is attracted to her in a way that sets her magic to blowing fuses and lights quite dramatically. Haris is just as uncomfortable about this situation as she is, but neither of them are willing to reject the attraction, something that does not make her family issues any easier.
The murder mystery builds nicely, with a good balance of discovery and confusion, but this is not a detective novel in any way. Pepper is going about her business trying to solve everyone’s problems without admitting to how she’d accepted the responsibility, and as she does, she learns things that point to the reasons behind the problems.
It’s evidence for how well built the story is that I’m struggling to convey what I enjoyed and what specifics drew me in without spoilers, so I’ll say only it’s a complicated world blended smoothly into the Boston I remember from previous visits. The feel of the place was very rich for me down to the buskers and how people interact differently depending on the time of day and whether they’ve got their fix (at least where the coffee shop she works in is concerned). And speaking of the coffee shop, how she blends her personal needs with the needs of the store is just one more example of her ingenuity.
The book is complete by itself, leaving nothing critical unresolved, though there are some threads left dangling and a real kicker in what is, for all practical purposes, an epilogue. Ghost Garages is a real turning point for Pepper. She begins as someone who ignores her magic in favor of keeping a low profile, and by the end, she realizes the training she’d been offered and rejected would have made all this much easier. I’m interested in finding out how she copes with the changes in her magic, her decisions regarding that magic, and the looming family crises as well. Luckily, book 2 is already available.