Cover Image: Gutter Mage

Gutter Mage

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5

This was such a nice surprise of a book! It reads like urban fantasy... in a fantasy world instead of a slightly reimagined modern world. Since I love the urban fantasy vibe, this worked well for me. In order for me to enjoy a book, I need to either be swept away by the story, or fall in love (or hate) with the characters. Some rare gems manage to give me both, but I don't particularly count on it when I start a book. As long as either one of those is present, I am along for the ride. 

Well, I'm happy to say that I got both with Gutter Mage. The worldbuilding is complex and expertly done. We are introduced to the world gradually, without unnecessary infodumps, but I never felt lost. The author gave me just enough information to understand what has happening and dolled out further revelations in measured doses. Which kept me interested and invested in the story. 

And the characters, oh the characters! I love Roz with all her flaws and jagged edges. I love how real she feels. She'd been through a very traumatic event and the damage it had done to her both physically and psychologically is still there. It defines a lot of her reactions and interactions with others. But Roz never uses it as an excuse for her shitty behavior, and that's what I like about it. She doesn't play the victim. She knows she is broken in many ways, but she is resolved to not let the past defeat her. 

The trauma of what she'd gone through prevents her from forming normal trusting relationships with others, because as soon as someone gets too close to her, she panics and does everything to push them away. So her relationship with Nye is even more important to her - he is her only friend. The person she trusts with everything. Implicitly and without question. So what happens later in the book is a punch in the gut for both Roz and the reader. 

I also loved the secondary characters who both helped and hindered Roz in her quest. I didn't, however, love the main villain. He suffered from the biggest flaw of the villain world, in my opinion - he loved to monologue too much. Also, his motives for doing what he was doing weren't entirely clear. Yes, he wanted to show the world that enslaving spirits was wrong, but what was the end game for him? He didn't sound like someone ready to give up his unlife for an ideology without some kind of personal gain.

That quip aside, I really loved this book. It was an excellent introduction to this new world and characters. I really hope that more books will follow, because while the main story ark is resolved in this book, the ending leave a lot of questions and loose ends to be developed in future books. 

PS: I received an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I really enjoyed this book. Foul mouthed, bad attitude females are really in vogue right now, and this one has just the right amount of ersatz to keep my attention. I found the character to be relatable, and the plot was not what I was expecting at all. I mean, yes, you knew the job wasn't going to be the job, but I didn't expect where it went. Totally looking forward to the Roz's next adventure!
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I thought this book was entertaining. I liked the main character for the most part. I wish she had been a little less crude. The magic system and the world were interesting. I wish they had been expanded upon more. I was hoping to get more books in this world to explore the magic and the characters more. Overall I found it to be a fun read but not mind blowing. I gave it 3.5 stars
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I struggled with this book. I read the reviews that DESTROYED it so I eagerly returned to it as EXPECTING it to be bad and really, thoroughly enjoyed it. I would love this to become a series.
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Murder, mystery, and magic. What an utterly thrilling combination. I went into this book knowing almost nothing about it except at the cover was gorgeous and I'd been wanting to read this author. I was hooked from the very first chapter and could barely put it down. Not only was the magic system fascinating but the mystery was complex and deliciously twisty.
Full review to come on YouTube.
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I feel so bad because I received an ARC of this book and am late reviewing it. It was a really good book too, the main character Roz aka the Gutter Mage is one kick butt character, she’s crass, no holds barred, goes head first into trouble without thinking. In most books I’ve read recently its the male character leading the charge and the female character not being so forward in language or fighting. Roz was almost a breath of fresh air compared to most main female characters you don’t see them like her in most books.

I loved the world building in this book, the magic system was so unique, especially as more of it unraveled throughout the book. Different Mage class systems, that Roz doesn’t want to be a part of, and they use spirits to power everything including magical items. I enjoyed almost all of the characters even the smaller characters like the inn keepers or people she met along the way. I won’t mention my favorites because there may be spoilers in that. This doesn’t say book one but I feel like it might be a book one. Either way I really enjoyed it and would definitely read more from this author.
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Gutter Mage does an interesting thing in combining two fantasy genres of urban fantasy and more "traditional" fantasy. This does a great job of making the reader familiar with the setting while still adding to the genre. So the setting and world-building choices are excellent. Roz is definitely rough around the edges and abrasive to almost everyone in the book. Many times her humor didn't really land with me. The many twists in the story kept me flipping the pages. I just had to know how it ended. So I came for the Roz, but stayed for the twisty plot.
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Very enjoyable adventure with a refreshing anti-heroine.

Roz Featherstone is most adamantly NOT a mage! but she IS obscenely powerful and at an early time in her life an eager student of magery. That was before her professor offered her some extra-curricular activities. Activities that would change Roz's life forever in ways she has yet to figure out or comprehend.

Now she and her partner Lysander are for hire to anyone willing to pay. They'll right wrongs, wrong rights (for the right coin) and generally mercenary for hire. Just don't refer to her by the epithet 'Gutter Mage' if you want to keep your teeth in your head. Then they are approached by the Major Domo of one of the regions most prestigious Lords to retrieve a kidnapped baby...and the price is definitely right! But, the job keeps having queer events happening and Roz is starting to think that all is NOT as it seems. (she's right)

Roz is a hard drinking, filthy mouthed brawler with esteem issues and a hoot to follow thru the twists and turns of the story. I highly recommend and look forward to further adventures of the Gutter Mage.
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J.S. Kelley's Gutter Mage is a great, quick romp into a fascinating universe that feels ripe for expansion.  Their characters show authentic growth and development, and I'm always a sucker for interesting magic systems that are understandable without too much exposition but allow for serious depth as the reader or characters learn more.  Kelley's world feels expansive, even though the story takes place in just a handful of locations - their light touch at dropping in just enough detail to create the world for their reader is masterfully done.  I really hope we get to see more in this world, but even if not, Gutter Mage is a definite read from me.
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This was a great, quick read once I was able to take the time to read it.  I could have finished it in one sitting, because it held my attention so well.  There wasn't much attention to detail.  I usually enjoy that in a book as it allows me to focus more on the characters and less on drudging through 'words that don't add much to the storyline.
I would be interested to read more based in this world.
Thank you Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a free and unbiased review.  It was great!!!
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Rosalyn Featherstone - "Roz" to her friends, the "Gutter Mage" to her detractors, is a rough-hewn arcanist (don't call her a mage!) who, along with her partner Lysander (Lye), works as a mercenary for hire. Things are going well - or as well as usual, anyway, when Lye brings in a new customer - chamberlain to Lord Edgar, who is searching for his lost son. The situation is nothing like it appears, and Roz and Lye are quickly caught up in events that go far beyond their original assignment.

TIghtly woven, fast-paced, and original, The Gutter Mage was a fast, fun read, about an original character in a world with a unique take on magic. Suggested for adults only due to profanity and sexual encounters.
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What a great book!  This almost like the better of the Dresden books.  Fun , fast paced and a feirce main character?  This book is wonderful.
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While a student at the Mage Academy, Rosaline was subjected to a banned arcane ritual which forever changed her. She evolved into a foul  mouthed  hard drinking individual resolved to never be that vulnerable again.. . She and her only friend . Lysander form a magical investigation firm .garnering her a detested nickname the "gutter mage."". When Lord Ariel hires them to recover his kidnapped infant, they discover all is not as it seems and uncover a nefarious plot that would forever damage their world and its people..Roz is an unusual and unlikely heroine  dealing with personal and moral dilemmas. Set in a very interesting world which the author's prose makes easily visualized this noir fantasy thriller has a lot to offer. It utilizes a unique magic system and a unique plot premise. I hope the author has more magical investigation adventures waiting in the wings as I would gladly revisit the characters.
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Gutter Mage
by J. S. Kelley
⚡️ I was provided an e-ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review 
🌟: 2 / 5 
📚: When the son of a Lord is kidnapped and all clues point to a secretive circle of mages, a magical outcast is hired to solve the crime.
💭: To be completely blunt, I really did not like this book. I requested this book because I was like, oh cool, a fantasy noir mystery, let me give this a shot. However, I should have let the bad cover art be my gut check on this because the inside made my cringe even harder than the outside did.

The writing tried so, so hard to be edgy and dry that it came off stilted, and I think that the tone was juuuust the tip of the iceberg for me. I get that a sarcastic antihero is a trendy lead to have right now, but I think that this book almost proves how hard it is to make this archetype actually succeed at being likeable but still not a good person. Not that it doesn’t try, so many elements that could possibly contribute to them being complex are brought to the table and are just kind of left there. While Roz isn’t the perfect lead, which is kind of the whole point, they’re just an actively boring character who can basically be boiled down into a bullet pointed list of traits that are never truly shown in a way that makes her dynamic or even likeable. And in hindsight, a few hours after finishing the book, I’m not entirely sure what Roz’s motivations even were? I think they were to have money to pay rent and to abandon their nickname of “Gutter Mage,” and truth be told, I don’t honestly know what ANYONE’S motivations were in this book.

And not to have an entire section of this review be spoilers, but like, ahem— [SPOILER] I just really want to know what the fuck was up with like the entire back third of this book being what was essentially a really poorly thrown out there villain speech? My biggest pet peeve in any book, but in mysteries especially, is when foreshadowing, redirects, and lead-ins are so poorly done that the end feels out of left field, and I think that this very well might be the worst of the worst I’ve read. Usually in mysteries, you can kind of give the author wiggle room because you can make assumptions based on how people act in the real world, but because this is a fantasy book, the bigger what and why of the mystery was world building that is genuinely NEVER explained. 

Like, not to put this book on blast completely, but I actually felt like I was dumb for not grasping plot that I don’t think was actually there to begin with (actually after writing that sentence, that is what I’m doing because I don’t think there were any redeeming factors for me?). What this book comes down to is that the main character’s former mentor assaulted and used her to try a new type of magic that gives her power instead of the normal magic that everyone in this universe has access to that requires study and practice. In doing this, he summoned a spirit that inhabits her body without her or the spirit being aware of it, and he dies in the process. THEN his ghost tries to usher in the apocalypse 15 years later by putting a who-dun-it mystery into play to get said former student to go to where his scheme is taking place. The teacher recruits her best friend slash hot sidekick to get her to go along with it, and then when the best friend slash hot sidekick’s betrayal is realized, he just disappears. Like, he is not in the rest of the book, and there is no explanation until the end when the main character considers that she has no idea what happened to him. Anyway, the reason that literally all of this went down, and is somehow extremely quickly foiled by one person, despite it being a plot that has been in play for FIFTEEN YEARS, is because the mentor’s ghost fell in love with the spirit that may or may not (it is NEVER CONFIRMED) be inhabiting the main character as he summoned it and immediately died. This book made me feel like I was losing my grip on my sanity because I could not make it make sense or care about any of the characters, and I just have come to the conclusion that it is a terrible book. [END SPOILER]

Another thing that probably only bothered me very specifically is within the concept of, the main character, Roz’s ability to control fire. The fact that she uses it in combat and is able to reduce an enemy to ashes in seconds was presented so early in the book that it absolutely, truly threw me off for a good chunk of the book. Like, the fact that it takes multiple HOURS at approximately 1800ºF to cremate a body, and the story expects me to just roll with the fact that this character JUST SO HAPPENS to get fire even hotter than that from their hands? This book is 100% someone’s two player character DND game, but even DND has a fragmentary grasp on the laws of physics, which is much more than this book does.

Again, I hated this book. It includes my noir mystery pet peeve where the villain just gives away their whole plan at the very end and throws in info that barely makes sense and reminds me of creative writing that I did in middle school, as well as my other pet peeve, which is a hot but can’t be bothered woman who was clearly written by a man.

Anyway, I guess the TL;DR of this book is that you don’t have to waste your time reading books with bad covers if you don’t want to. The cover is there to sell you on the book, and sometimes it’s pretty telling of the content inside too.
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Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley was a romp, in more ways than one! Roz Featherstone is an Arcanist, despises Mages (it's a long and bitter story, let's just say unfair/abusive treatment at mage school) and thus, as she lives in the most mage filled city in Penador, a world that runs on spirt magic; now she's a magic PI/thug for hire.
She's hard drinking, doesn't run from a fight - starts them, really - and won't let folks get close.  It's too dangerous, for everyone, for several reasons.
This story was engaging, the characters, both main and secondary, were well-fleshed out, and the plotline neither overwhelming complex nor obvious.  The geography was confusing but you can't have everything and (except for the distance from here to there) it wasn't really that important.
I could see her hanging out with the Rat Queens. I'd like to see how several storyline resolve (again, won't spoil but they involve people close to Roz) and so I hope this isn't a one-off.  I put this on my debut shelf but I've since been informed that JS Kelly has published under a different name - still, a debut for this persona.
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Thank you so much to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

I really enjoyed this story! This was a fun, almost Dresden-like feeling mystery, but set in an all-fantasy world, and I ended up liking it immensely. The humor and the characterizations were entertaining, the mystery was one that I (for the most part) did not see coming, although certain parts of it were slightly predictable (but even those twists had twists that I didn't really anticipate). The magic system was one that I had not really read before, and was done in a way that was interesting (and philosophical at the same time). 

Roz was a very rough-around-the-edges lead, and was dealing with quite a bit of trauma from things that happened in her past, but when it came down to it, she would do anything for the people she cared about. Her relationship with Lysander and Orlando were two of her most redeeming qualities, and made a lot of her more unlikeable traits easier to handle. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the mystery and the plot twists that occurred throughout this story, and I gave it a four out of 5 stars. I am greatly looking forward to more books from this author and I hope there will be more to this series!
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I want to be honest with my review. This book took me so long to read, the reason being that It was not what I expected. The art style is absolutely to die for but I found the storyline confusing.
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When I picked up Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley, I expected a fairly tried and true fantasy/mystery thriller based on the back of the book. What I got instead was a mix of horror, profanity, existential crises, and a tried and true fantasy/mystery thriller. The book is profound in that it manages to both be trope-y and wildly creative in the same book, but often not at the same time. I realize that is hard to understand without context, so let’s dig into what Gutter Mage has to offer. 

The world of Gutter Mage is set in a kingdom where magic fuels everything to the point of feeling a little like a capitalist dystopia where the capital is magic. The mage guilds wield enormous power and snuff out any independent competition. But, when Lord Edmund’s infant son is kidnapped and he wants to keep it on the down-low, he turns to the one independent who is known as being mildly competent: Rosalind Featherstone, a.k.a. the Gutter Mage. Fueled by a desire for one last score to help her partner retire, Roz accepts the job, despite its shady feel, and rapidly realizes that things are even more messed up than she suspected. Thus kicks off a carnival ride of unpleasant twists and turns in a mystery that kept me invested from start to finish.

This book is the Roz show, no if and or buts about it. The plot has some interesting twists and a refreshing horror angle that makes it stand out, but Gutter Mage mostly feels similar to every other fantasy cop story I have read recently – at least from a plot angle. Roz, on the other hand, is the real sell of the book and brings tons of originality to the story. We stay in the mind of Roz the entire time, and she certainly isn’t boring. She curses a little too much to the point where it felt like one of her defining character traits. She has an extreme penchant for violence, and she seems to think really highly of her magical abilities when they really just boil down to either “set something on fire” or “set everything on fire.” Yet, her violent and loud exterior matches the pacing and tone of the mystery and does well to add to the ambiance and pacing of the narrative. On top of this, she has an absolutely profound moment of introspection that changes the entire subcontext of Gutter Mage to the point where I set it down and began to think about the entire story in a new light.

I won’t spoil what the introspection was, but essentially Roz learns something about herself that results in some truly fascinating internal questions that I haven’t seen fantasy novels play with much. It breathes enormous life into the book as all of the typical tropes for fantasy cops gain new terrible perspectives and it helps continue to put a horror zest to the entire affair. Before this big internal question, I was enjoying the read but wasn’t overly engaged in the plot. After the reveal, I was riveted.

Gutter Mage is an existential crisis wrapped in a noir detective story. It has a lot more depth than it initially seems while also being exactly as fast, fun, and punchy as it advertises. It is a quick read and one of the better in-class detective fantasy stories I have recently read. I recommend you check it out if anything I talked about above even mildly sparked your interest.

Rating: Gutter Mage – 7.5/10
-Andrew
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Rosalind Featherstone is a badass. Yeah, she might not always make the best decisions; she’s a little impulsive, and she probably drinks too much, but, nonetheless, Roz is a badass. When we first meet her at The Skinned Cat — one of the few taverns she is still welcome in — Roz manages to get in a bit of a knock-down, drag-out scuffle whilst waiting for her partner, the humongous Lysander Tunning.

Lysander has lined up a cherry of a job for him and Roz: rescuing the kidnapped infant of the highly respected Lord Edmund which was kidnapped by the relatively new and notorious Alath Mages Guild.

That’s how this marvelous tale kicks off. From there we drop right into hardboiled noir, magic, spirits, deception and a little bit of sexy time. J.S. Kelley has absolutely nailed the banter between our two primary protagonists. Roz and Lye and old friends and the relationship is just so beautifully executed. In fantasy fiction such as this, you usually expect the big lunk to be the hot-headed one, but it is just absolutely refreshing for Lye to be the voice of reason while Roz will pretty much take on anything regardless of risk. That being said, though, Roz has a real intuitive noggin on her shoulders. The mystery aspect of Gutter Mage is what really sets it apart from much of the fantasy fiction that is out there. I would think I had a certain twist sorted, and be absolutely wrong: an incredibly enjoyable feeling when navigating a new book.

Rolling this all up in Roz’s semi-mysterious history is just the icing on the cake. J.S. Kelley definitely has some serious talent at character development, and the worldbuilding in Gutter Mage is also incredibly top notch. Do yourself a favor and put this one in your TBR stack. I honestly can’t think of a more enjoyable mystery novel that I have read in the past year. I feel like a night out drinking with Roz would lead to some serious mirth.

I do hope that this is not the last that we see of this world. I feel like there were enough unanswered questions to warrant another book (or ten), and, honestly, I just can’t wait for more.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of Gutter Mage! 
This novel was pleasantly surprising. I first heard about this book from a Youtuber I like to watch, and the premise intrigued me but I was still a bit hesitant to request it--but I'm super glad I did! Roz, the MC of this work, was awesome! She definitely had the whole hard-edged noir detective trope going on, but it just worked. There's also a lot more detective work and investigation happening in this novel than I expected; I expected the focus to be on the fantasy rather than the actual investigative work, but I was actually really enjoying the blend that this novel took on. This is definitely a great installment into what will surely be a vey enjoyable and enduring series! Can't wait for the next installment! I'm recommending this to my library as a purchase for September, absolutely!
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