Set in a magic-fueled futuristic world, M.K. England’s Spellhacker dazzles with a compelling story of thievery, heavily-regulated magic, and the unscrupulous underbelly of corporate misdeeds.
After a contaminated dose killed thousands, maz—a naturally-produced magic permeating from the earth—became highly-regulated and extortionately-priced in the city of Kyrkarta. For the rich and financially secure, maz is simply a means of luxury, easily-acquired and limited only by their bank accounts. For Diz, it’s a means of putting food on the table, of paying the rent, of procuring opportunities that circumstance stole. A hot commodity on the market, siphoning maz from the pipes beneath the city fetches Diz and her friends a fair price, enough to survive on so long as they can keep the law off their backs.
But Diz’s friends are ready to move onto greener and less illegal pastures, seeking employment and higher education in a neighboring city. Lucrative a job as it is, Diz reels the group into one last theft before the foursome parts ways, harboring a secret hope that the high payout will change her friends’ minds about leaving. When the heist ends in spellplague and a death toll, however, they become fugitives and pawns in a corrupt scheme that threatens to tear them apart, if it doesn’t kill them first.
M.K. England crafts a compelling novel rich with intrigue and a magic all its own. With her crisp setting, diverse characters, and strong found-family ties, she weaves magic in both her words and her futuristic technology-driven world—one I’d love to inhabit for real, if only for the technology. From ware—a device that enables those who aren’t naturally able to wield maz—to smart contact lenses, I was transfixed by the imagination behind the tech, as well as the intricate manner of maz and spell weaving. The act of physically constructing a spell, weaving various strains of maz together, explores and underpins a far more skillful and artistic form of magic that you marvel at as the characters do.
Despite the luster of the world and magic system, the novel really shines when it comes to the characters and the bonds they share. Unlike her friends Ania, Jaesin, and Remi, Diz presents as more closed-off, tamping down her emotions and projecting an abrasive vibe. One of the side characters jokingly calls her “little cactus,” and though Diz resents the name, it’s a fair description. Like the spines on a cactus, Diz’s external show of detachment wards away her feelings, her friends, and even myself as a reader occasionally. She’s a bit difficult to like, especially at the start of the novel, yet what I love is how England manages to balance it out: creating this external vs. internal dichotomy privy only to readers. It helped redeem her to me, showing that her behavior and feelings are at odds. Even with Diz’s more detached nature, its apparent how much she cares for her friends, the depth of the bond they share, and the strides she’ll go to keep them all together.
The secondary characters, though less layered than Diz, are fun characters and enjoyable to read about. Though he didn’t have a large presence in the novel, I especially liked Professor Silva, from his quirky personality to the sweet yet silly dynamic he has with his husband. Alongside the characters just general personalities, Spellhacker fosters so much diversity, featuring copious LGBTQ+ characters.
Spellbindingly unique and full of eclectic characters, M.K. England’s Spellhacker is a magical read.