Webmage by Kelly McCullough
Ravirn is a Classics and Computer Science major at U of M. Being a computer science major, of course he’s a hacker. Being a classics major, of course he’s a greek demigod–okay, maybe that part doesn’t follow logically, but it’s true. His Grandmother is Lachesis (well, not his direct Grandmother, but the head of his family line), which makes him related to the other two fates as well. His great-aunt Atropos asks him to debug a program for her, which in this family is the same as asking him to debug a spell. Only when he looks at it does he realise that it’s a spell to remove all free will from all the worlds. Not wanting to piss her off, he tries to pass the buck and get out, but she curses him with a version of what happened to Cassandra: when he tells the truth about this incident, no one will believe him. He attempts to break into her fortress and steal the spell, but that attempt fails and he winds up accidentally crashing the servers that control inter-world spells, communication, and travel. As a result, he finds himself on the run from assassins twice as tough as he is with no one to help but his webgoblin, a creature part familiar and part laptop, and a gorgeous and terminally suspicious distant cousin who he hopes will come to be more to him . . .
The computer programming as spellcasting metaphor is hardly original, but McCullough has enough sense not to get into too much detail so things shouldn’t fall apart even for the programmers in the audience (ultimately, even in the story it seems to be understood to be just a metaphor). Furthermore, the characters are likeable and well-drawn.
Frankly, throughout I was reminded of Zelazny’s Amber series–snarky prince in over his head as he tries to deal with his immortal family (Merlin was a computer programmer too), though not in a derivative or bad way. Quite the contrary; and though I think that John deChancie is aiming to be the new Zelazny, McCullough might have a chance in that direction himself, depending on what else he comes up with in the future.
Magician’s Ward by Patricia C. Wrede
Kim lives in an alternate Victorian England, where magic is a respectable trade. She is the ward and student of Richard Merrill (who she knows as ‘Mairelon the Magician’, hero of the eponymous novel, to which this is naturally the sequel), though of late Merrill has been leaving her in the care of his Aunt, who feels that Kim would be best off to take advantage of the season to seek out a husband from the upper classes. Kim, who grew up on the streets of London, thinks this is unlikely to work, even if she wants it to, but Mrs. Lowe (the aunt) is insistent. Then a burglar tries to break into Merrill’s library and steal a book, something which is only prevented by Kim’s intereference–but the burglar is using magic. Kim and Merrill are drawn into an adventure, trying to find out which book was to be stolen and why and by whom? They cross over to both polite society and street society, using their resources intelligently (even though most of Kim’s contacts didn’t know she was a girl when she lived on the streets). I can’t really say much about the plot without talking a lot about the society, and I don’t want to do that because a lot of the fun is in discovering exactly that. The book is well-written; all the characters are well-sketched and interesting, the world is an engaging one, and the mystery is enticing and the solution comes from unexpected directions (and doesn’t rely on fooling the reader). And even though the book is a sequel you don’t have to have read the first book (I haven’t–yet; it’s in my to-be-read pile right now).