When I read the blurb for The Magistrate, I was instantly intrigued.
Poverty is rife in twenty-fourth century London, England. Crime rates are at an all-time high, and living conditions for many are bleak. Capital punishment and public hangings have been reinstated, and Magistrates, in their new role, are tasked with patrolling the streets to enforce arrest warrants and ‘terminate’ any civilians who attempt to evade justice — which isn’t always a noble pursuit.
The laws are strict, illiberal, and unsympathetic. If you can’t afford to feed and clothe yourself, you’ll be sent to the workhouse. If you fall behind on your rent, you’ll be sent to debtors’ prison. If you’re gay, you’ll be hanged.
For Carmen Wild, the latter becomes a potentially deadly problem when the discovery of a murdered prostitute brings her back into the life of her first love — the Madam of an East End cathouse — and the illicit passions between them are swiftly reignited.
A lesbian dystopian trilogy? With a hint of steampunk? How could I resist? I was hoping for something along the lines of popular teen dystopian trilogies, like Divergent or The Hunger Games. When I received the book and saw the cover, I started to doubt it was the kind of book I was expecting. The first couple pages confirmed that suspicion. The focus on describing character’s appearances, especially clothing, reminded me of a romance novel. The second page of the story info dumps most of the world-building all at once, and I found it a little unbelievable at first (“nanites” in everyone’s blood that the government can turn off and on and track at all times), though the world did seem more real by the end.
I realized part way through the book that it actually reminds me less of the dystopian books I’ve read, and more like a gritty detective novel. The main character is a magistrate–kind of like a police officer–and there are a few mysterious murders driving the plot. The back blurb for the author says that she has a “love for the gruesome, the macabre, and the downright filthy,” and that definitely shows in The Magistrate. There are lots of squicks and triggers in this story, including violence, general grossness, and a serious age difference between the main character and her love interest. As in, Carmen met her love interest when she was very much a child and her love interest was very much an adult. It can definitely be seen as “grooming”. If you have a weak stomach or are made uncomfortable by that kind of age difference, I would steer clear of this trilogy: it does seem “gritty” for the sake of it. There are also questionable moments of the main characters degrading sex workers, and sometimes acting like a mute girl was nonexistent.
There were definitely some elements I liked, including the character of Vyxyn and her relationship with Carmen, and I did find the romance plot intriguing, even if I was also cringing half the time. I think the world has potential, but at 400 pages for the first book in the trilogy, I feel like there isn’t enough there to justify the length, so I don’t think I’ll be going onto the next one in the series. If you’re more into the “gruesome, macabre, and filthy”, and if that combined with a romance novel and detective novel seems like your style, then I can definitely see you enjoying this book, and likely the whole trilogy. It just wasn’t what I was looking for.