The Index: Mages is the first novel by author Katherine Gilraine. It is a fantasy novel that includes wars and fight scenes and plenty of people with cool powers trying to blow up stuff. There is also character development, interesting interpersonal relationships, and a carefully-drawn plot that will surprise you with its occasional left turns.
Gilraine hooks you in from the very first page, opening the story on a post-battlefield world that has been decimated by an intergalactic war. The main characters are then sent out to recuperate from their experiences, and they end up on Earth. When the story picks up again, it’s modern-day New York and everything’s just gone sideways. The man responsible for the intergalactic war has gotten loose, and there’s precious little time to save Earth, its people and maybe even a good chunk of the universe. Saving a piece of the universe is a tall order for a first novel, and Gilraine fills it well. Her characters hit the ground running and fighting, and you’re taken along for the chase. One skirmish has barely finished before another starts to flare up, and Gilraine’s writing style—brief descriptions and snappish dialogue—keeps the up the pace without losing the punch.
A good plot is incredibly weak without well-drawn characters, and it’s clear Gilraine is well aware of that fact. She uses the events in the plot to showcase each of her characters individually, and that allows her to branch out her story and give a complete, complex narrative that showcases soldiers trying to do their duty, families trying to find out the truth about their loved ones, and friends working hard to help each other through a sudden change in events that leaves them all confused when they have time to think through everything. Gilraine’s main characters are aliens from a world where magic is commonplace, but they’re wholly relatable in their actions, even when their response to being furious is accidentally setting a hall of portraits aflame. Metaphor is an effective tool in style when a writer knows how to manipulate it, and Gilraine knows what she’s doing.
The Index: Mages is not just a first novel; it’s the first novel in a series. Gilraine finishes her fine work with a cliffhanger that should get an award for not being set directly before any major battle, not being set in the middle of any major battle, and not being set just as the good guy and the bad guy finally face off for the first time (an overdone series of tropes used by plenty of adventure fantasy novelists). It’s obvious she knows where she’s going with the rest of her series. The first book is a double winner: It’s a well-constructed set-up into the universe Gilraine wants us to see, and it’s a strong story with an engaging plot and interesting characters. On the basis of her first novel, I look eagerly forward to what else Gilraine has planned for her universe.