This is the third Boston Technowitch novel, and with the series shaping up to be long, it falls approximately in the middle. For me, that’s where a series succeeds or fails. The first two established a distinct pattern of narrative with the unique elements being in the specifics (the way a murder mystery series is always about a different murder), but Troll Tunnels doesn’t let that pattern settle in and become stagnant at all. Sure, my favorite character to hate, Dorothy, shows up with her usual brand of mischief, but she’s not the central issue in this book, nor is her thread without new aspects.
For the first time, no one beyond Dorothy is blaming Pepper for murders she hasn’t committed or for causing the end of the world as we know it. Instead, Troll Tunnels focuses on Pepper’s life, and her own growth magically and as a person. It should not come as a surprise to learn her involvement with the trolls deepens, given the title, but there are some interesting revelations there, and a complete, satisfying main plot for the book as well.
The trolls are not the only people Pepper connects with, some a long time coming while others are a surprise. She expands her worry circle to include everyone she’s touched so far, good or bad, and actively chooses to make ties rather than pushing people away.
I enjoyed Pepper moving out of her self-hatred into creating a new vision for herself and her magic. I loved the interactions with Haris and Hsien as well as with various members of Matt’s family. But it’s the complexity of everything, the way Pepper’s life is reaching out to join with so many others like her magic does when she asks for help in solving problems, that has me hooked. It makes for a well-rounded character with a strong support system even when she feels alone. Even better, she’s fighting for those connections now, accepting she both deserves and needs them.
As usual, her relationships with her kids formed one of my favorite parts. In this book, they’re more essential to the overall plot than usual because of their father, Matt. His hatred of all things magic has gotten out of control, and the kids are suffering for it. Pepper, too. I can state without spoilers that the end brought tears to my eyes. You’ll have to read the book to learn what kind of tears.
As a middle book, we have character growth, the situation with the kids coming to a head, and feelers creeping forward into future books to come. Then we also have a magical situation for Pepper to solve with the trolls even if the witches aren’t blaming her for it. This is a solid novel with a lot going on, and a lot of reasons to expect more to come.