"I've always been a monster," begins the jacket flap of Drift & Dagger. Mal keeps that a secret, though. More openly, he's something of a cross between a pirate, thief, smuggler, archeologist, and bounty hunter. He is a world-traveling adventurer who specializes in acquiring and selling magical artifacts, often through underhanded means. He frequents ports and bazaars, black markets and bars, dense slums and dense jungles and everything in between. He's lived his teen years in underworlds across the world learning how to survive, and lives only for the present.
It's the middle of the nineteenth century. Whalers rule the seas and commerce travels by ship. Mal is from Prince Island, the whaling capital of the world, off the coast of Massachusetts. He keeps that a secret, though, because it might lead to questions that might expose his hidden monster: in a world of magic, Mal is not magical. Some few lucky people have inherent magical talents. Everyone else trades in the goods they enchant, potions and charms and items of power to help them in their endeavors. Mal, though, he is one of those rare abominations unaffected by magic, a blank. He doesn't see the illusions that fool others, isn't made sick or sleepy, isn't stopped by repelling charms or security curses, even cancels the magic of others. Blanks are unnatural, cursed to eventually go mad and destroy everyone around them. Essie, his childhood best friend, his fellow social outcast growing up on Prince Island, the next Roe Witch whose magic will assure the ongoing success of the whaling industry, was the one who discovered his secret. She's the one who shared his secret, betraying his friendship and driving Mal from the only home he ever knew. Sending him fleeing abroad with nothing and no one to make his way in the world. To live in shadows, hoping to never be found out again.
Now Mal works with Boone, a Silvertongue--someone whose magic is the ability to force others to do as he says. Boone took Mal in when he was lost and alone, taught him the ways of the world, recognized Mal's blankness would be a benefit in his line of work as a magic Hunter. They are partners and scoundrels. It's an arrangement that works well for Mal, allowing him to keep his secret, live in the moment, and dream of perhaps someday finding a way to take vengeance on Essie.
Mal's story takes place in a deeply imagined world and is told with sharp dialogue and rich, evocative language that never impedes its adventurous pace. The intrigue is personal and based in Mal's quest for identity. It makes for a strong and enjoyable package that should appeal widely.