Trancehack introduces readers to a dark and intriguing paranormal world, and as paranormal romance, it works. However, underneath the paranormal overlay, this book also ends up being something of a police procedural at heart – and it’s not half bad at that either.
Set in a future United States, Clark envisions a world in which those with magical powers live under laws which force them to live in urban ghettos and which limit their ability to marry, to move outside their “zones”, to hold certain types of jobs, and so on. They must inhabit a distinct underclass in American society and most people steer clear of them. Calla Vesper, a witch, makes her living creating jewelry and cultivating other, more secret, skills in her zone.
Calla’s world collides with that of the Normals one day when Detective Nathan Perez starts making inquiries in the zone. A powerful doctor has been killed and his death appears linked with the zone and with drugs known to be manufactured there in various forms. Since this doctor had been responsible for separating magic-born children from their families and sequestering them in zones, Calla and her neighbors don’t exactly mourn his passing and they are deeply suspicious of a Normal poking around their neighborhood and asking questions.
Things between Calla and Nathan start off slowly and believably. Calla does not trust the Normal world and Nathan truly does not understand the magical one. It’s Nathan’s willingness to admit he does not understand this other culture that not only moves the story forward but also makes Nathan much more approachable and likable as a character. Nathan wants to solve the crime and he knows that he needs help from Calla in order to navigate the world he investigates. She doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, but grudging tolerance turns to reluctant respect and keeps moving into warmer realms.
One of the truly engaging things about Trancehack is that one can read the story on a variety of levels. As a police procedural/paranormal romance, Clark creates an interesting world and the action of the story definitely pulls the reader along. Calla and Nathan jump from working relationship to romance a bit suddenly and this does feel a bit jarring, but overall the paranormal romance works, especially in the latter parts of the book when Nathan and Calla must wrestle with the differences between their two worlds. After all, if Calla cannot marry and cannot live in the Normal world, what kind of future can these two have?
However, the book stands out because, if the reader really wants to start drawing parallels with our current world and political climate, the material is all right there in the story. Descriptions of religion, race, and – for lack of a better term – “otherness” abound in the story and almost invite comparison with issues provoking discussion in American society today. The story world, with its sharp divisions between the magic-born and the Normals, is disquieting and some of the “What if?” questions it brings to mind for our own world can be thought-provoking as well.
In addition to an intriguing world, readers get treated to the twists and turns of a pretty good mystery. I figured out the solution well before the characters did, but it’s still a fun journey. And the ending for Calla and Nathan? Well, it works without resorting to a deus ex machina or other eyeroll-inducing plotting, and that went a long way in my estimation. If you’re looking for a paranormal read that goes beyond the usual groups of vampires or shapeshifters, this is definitely one worth trying.