“In Mal’s world, magic is everything. But Mal is a “blank,” the anti-magic. Blanks can’t be hexed or cursed or saved or killed by magic. And everyone is afraid of them – Mal included. So Mal hides what he is – except from Essie Roe, a witch and his best friend. On the day Essie reveals his secret and casts him out from the only home he’s ever known, Mal experiences the true shock of betrayal.
Now Mal travels the world in search of rare, illegal magical relics. When his partner in crime, Boone, hears rumors of a legendary dagger that can steal a witch’s power, Mal knows he’s finally found his means of revenge. But as the chase for the fabled knife takes them from Boston to Paris to Constantinople, Mal realizes there are secrets afoot that he’s only beginning to understand – and all the while the blank monster inside him threatens to escape.”
Drift & Dagger is the companion novel to Kendall Kulper’s 2014 debut Salt & Storm. Set in the same world of whaling and witches and magic, I was intrigued to get another perspective from a different generation after reading Avery Roe’s tale in Salt & Storm. Salt & Storm was good – an enjoyable historical fantasy, even if I couldn’t quite connect with Avery. But after reading the synopsis of Drift & Dagger, I couldn’t pass it up. Excuse the awful sea pun, but Drift & Dagger blew me out of the water.
Drift & Dagger manages to combine all of my favorite things: heists, morally ambiguous characters, magic, and a protagonist who suffers greatly. And it works, wonderfully. Mal is tortured by the betrayal he experienced at the hands of his first and only friend, Essie Roe, when she exposed him as a blank. Unaffected by magic, Mal is ostracized, as his very existence threatens to undermine the entire magical system upon which society depends. Mal is convinced that his blankness is an evil inside of him that will eventually take over and turn him into a monster. His continued struggle with his looming fate adds a layer of depth to his character, and gives Mal a rage that propels him throughout the story, all to get his revenge on Essie.
Drift & Dagger was fast-paced, and I couldn’t get enough of the heist scenes and action throughout. The reader travels the world in this novel, from New York to Constantinople, and the travel brings a richer world to life beyond tiny Prince Island. The magic system itself is really wonderfully fleshed out in this book, and the reader encounters different types of magical ability and perception. The grounding weight to all of this, of course, is Mal and his blankness. Ironically, in a world where people can charm speak or raise the seas or suffocate a person by controlling air, Mal is the biggest threat, the scariest possible rival. It’s difficult to see Mal struggle with his identity and what he fears he’ll become, but he is an infinitely likable character. He’s even worked his way into book boyfriend territory. I adored Mal, and I still want to know more about his story.
I expected to like this book, but I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. There were no awkward lulls in the story – I couldn’t drag my attention away from the pages. The only down side to this book is how close of a companion it is to Salt & Storm. If you read one, it will spoil the other. These stories take place during one generation to the next, so the events of one have bearing on the other. I read Salt & Storm first, so I knew, to an extent, how Drift & Dagger would end. If you’re interested in these books (which you should be), I’d highly recommend reading Drift & Dagger first, then Salt & Storm. Fewer spoilers, and I think the stories would flow really nicely that way. At then end of the day, I really loved this story and Mal. If you like magic and historical fiction, Drift & Dagger needs to be on your TBR list.