I had hoped to get my hands on a copy of Angel's Ink before reading this, the next book in Drake's Asylum Tales series but I didn't quite manage it. Thankfully Dead Man's Deal worked surprisingly well as a stand alone and I gratefully escaped into a world of magic, monsters and mayhem.
Dead Man's Deal features Gage Powell, a wizard who turned his back on his training in order to escape the horrifying politics of his fellow magic wielders in the Ivory Towers. He makes his living as a tattoo artist in Low Town whilst forced to submit to strict conditions laid down by the Towers upon the threat of execution. Gage works hard to keep his head down but when the ruling class hears rumours of a rebellion amongst the general population that even leveling an entire city doesn't quell, they are eager to blame Gage and now he, and everyone he cares about, is under threat unless he can survive long enough to strike a deal.
In Drake's world, wizards and witches rule with sadistic impunity while humanity and other races suffer their whims. Children who exhibit magic skills, like Gage did, are forcibly removed from their parents with all further contact denied and are brought up amongst their own kind, apprenticed to mature wizards and witches. It's a competitive, cut throat environment which breeds arrogance, entitlement and casual viciousness and in Dead Man's Deal, Drake shares snippets of Gage's past to reveal the horror of his childhood.
Gage's determination to overthrow his destiny is his prime motivator but not at the cost of another's life if he can avoid it. While Gage would like nothing more than to dismantle the Ivory Towers, in Dead Man's Deal he is forced to stop the rebellion led by the Dark Elf, knowing that his brethren will destroy everything to suppress the dissemination of the coordinates of their towers. As Gage tries to capture the Elf he also has to deal with Tower assassins, jealous fae and the surprise arrival of his long lost brother. It's a fast paced, action packed plot mired in magic and violence relieved by Drake's wicked sense of humour and his passionate romance with his girlfriend, Trixie, an elf.
I really enjoyed Dead Man's Deal and Drake's creation of her gritty, unique world. Gage is a great hero with many admirable traits and he is supported by a cast of interesting characters and the story has may eager to know what happens next. This series is a must for fans of urban fantasy.