Burning Bridges, by Laura Anne Gilman (Luna, 2007)

Life used to be so much easier for Wren Valere. As a lonejack Talent, she was beholden to no faction, responsible for no one but herself, and free as a bird. As a highly skilled Retriever, she tackled whatever jobs would challenge her and bring in the good money, acquiring all sorts of items in a less than legal manner. The only one she had to keep happy was her agent and partner, Sergei. Life was easier by far. But that was before she fell in love with Sergei. Before she got tangled up in the politics of the magical community known as the Casa Nostradamus. Before she became troubleshooter, representative, figurehead, champion of the underdogs, and too well-known for her own good. Before people started dying. Wren Valere used to be invisible. Now she’s at the center of everything that’s going on, and hating every moment.

As Wren works on convincing the inhuman Fatae, the contrary lonejacks, and the bureaucratic members of the Mage Council to work together against a common set of enemies, Sergei struggles against his renewed, unwelcome obligations to his former employers, the enigmatic Silence. Fatae are being killed in the streets, victims of a vicious hate group, and in a seemingly unrelated series of events, any number of minor Talents have simply gone missing, with no clue left to their ultimate fates. Wren and Sergei, torn by their alliances and obligations, may find themselves working against one another, their purposes crossing rather than overlapping. With internal problems distracting both Silence and Council, it looks as though the only one who’ll come out on top is whoever’s pulling all the strings. And by the time the puppet master is possibly revealed, there’ll be an epic showdown such as New York rarely sees, as factions collide, alliances are tested, and bridges are burned. And Wren and Sergei’s fragile, growing relationship may be one of the many victims of the conflict.

Burning Bridges, the fourth in Gilman’s Retrievers series, manages to up the stakes in an already volatile setting, expertly playing various ongoing storylines against one another in an ever-more complex tapestry. We’ve seen the gradual, steady growth of the main characters as they change and evolve thanks to their experiences, and things really hit the fan in this installment, leading to some major payoffs and startling developments. Gilman’s built things up quite nicely over the series, and Burning Bridges is anything but dull, as conflicts of personality, idealogy and purpose come into play on all sides. The way in which she weaves together action, mystery, magic and romance is wholly satisfying, focusing as much on the emotional and romantic entanglements of the main characters as on the political and social maneuverings of the various groups. One really has to feel for Wren and Sergei as they try to carve out a love life amidst all manner of intrigue, trying to stay together and safe when everything’s collapsing around them.

Gilman’s take on an urban fantasy setting continues to intrigue, as she avoids so many of the usual elements, and plays up the less familiar aspects. No vampires or werewolves to be found here, just oddball demons, piskies, griffins, angels, nausanni, dryads and more, hiding in plain sight. No wand-waving wizards, but current-manipulating Talents, both organized and fiercely independent. It’s a fascinating angle with a lot more room for exploration, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of it in upcoming books. I’ve been saying it all along, and I’ll say it again, this is an excellent series, well worth picking up, and I haven’t been let down yet.

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