Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

book cover of Minimum Wage Magic

What a quick, fun read this was. Minimum Wage Magic (awesome title, incidentally) is a futuristic fantasy book set in the Detroit Free Zone, which I gather is the setting of a number of the author's other books. As a setting, it's nothing short of brilliant: a lawless high-tech urban society with interventionist gods, a city whose geography is constantly being shuffled about, and an extreme level of density that would've put the Kowloon Walled City to shame. It's a setting that screams to have TV series set there – a show with the vibe of Joss Whedon's Angel would work very nicely.

The story itself was a bit weaker, but still highly enjoyable. It follows Opal Yong-ae, a graduate of a prestigious university who instead works as a Cleaner – that is, she buys the rights to clean out the apartments of people who've been evicted for non-payment of rent, in return for being able to resell their belongings at a profit. It's not exactly a common career path for someone with her levels of education, but Opal has her reasons: a massive debt to pay, and a strong inclination to live in hiding from the one she's repaying it to.

At the outset of the book, Opal has been suffering through a five-month dry spell of not being able to make enough money back from the apartments she Cleans to cover her costs. So, when she gets one containing a dead man and a lot of interesting, mysterious magic, she senses profit to be made. She bids hard on a related apartment, and in so doing attracts a lot of attention: firstly from the bad guys, who are interested in the product of the magical ritual she's trying to piece together, and then from Nik, a fellow Cleaner who also likes profit and can sense that Opal is in over her head.

And it is Nik, if anything, who makes up the one thing I didn't find satisfying about this book. From the moment he offers to help Opal, he's really the one who does everything. He knows where to go, who to see, and what needs to be done, while she just kind of tags along. At the end of the book, he's even the one who has to cover Opal's loan repayment, because she hasn't actually figured out a way of doing that despite it being her overriding goal throughout the whole book. The good news is that this is the first instalment of a series, and it is possible (though we shall see) that Opal's character development – becoming a capable person who can largely manage her own affairs – will be a major theme of it.

Overall, this is probably a three-star book that gets kicked up a star due to its ridiculously awesome setting. I guess it's worth noting that while this is the first book of this series, there is another set in the same place, namely the Heartstrikers series that starts with Nice Dragons Finish Last. I don't know that dragons were really the most gripping part of this setting for me, but for more time in the DFZ it might be worth a try.

Books in the Detroit Free Zone series

  1. Minimum Wage Magic (you are here)
  2. Part-Time Gods
  3. Night Shift Dragons


a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.