Travel Documents 28: Minimum Wage Magic

Minimum Wage Magic (DFZ Book 1)

Rachel Aaron
Genre: Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy, adventure

 Link To Buy

The Dust Cover Copy

The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab.
That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one–there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves–but when you’re deep in debt in a city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.

The Deets

The Scene


Oh wow. There aren’t many books with magical elements that I can justify covering in this blog, given that the focus is on possibilities for our future. But Aaron pulled it off! And she did so beautifully.

I listened to the audio version of this story, and it’s now been played three times.
At its base, this is a city life story. But what a city.

It all started when the gods got back in. Algonquin, Queen of the Great Lakes, had a grudge on for Detroit and its polluting ways. So she wiped it off the map, Old-Testament style.

What rose in its place was a wild city of blended power and precision, greed and gerry-mandering: the DFZ. A city with a literal soul.
Aaron has built an amazing world: 40% of humanity is born magical, and that means 60% of the population suddenly, really felt the need to compete. The rise of bio-ware, gene edits for humans, implants and tech for the muggles was astronomical in this timeline. What you end up with is a city where mech, tech and thaumaturgy rub shoulders, and genetically modified people like Opal depend on their AI assistants to spell-check their spellwork. It’s wild, it’s wooly, and it is wonderful. I adore this off-the-wall take on the far-fetched future of Detroit. It’s at once completely alien and completely familiar to city-dwellers: there may be magic, but somebody still has to take out the trash and scrub off the graffiti. At least, the ugly bits. Rent bills still need paying. And there’s a hustle around every corner.

The Crowd


For all the lavish background, it’s the characters that had me listening to this work three times. (By the way, the reader did a gorgeous job bringing them all to life). Opal’s scrappy self-respect in spite of an upbringing that should have destroyed her spirit is an inspiration. The hidden depths of a character we write off as a mercenary unfold like the petals of a steel orchid. Even Opal’s annoyingly chipper AI Sybil is sweet and frustrating in her characterization, by turns endearing and utterly frustrating. Think a kid sister who’s smarter than you.

The drives and motives of each character are well introduced, rounding them out as believable and interesting personalities trying to hold their heads up in spite of their circumstances. Even the antagonist is understandable. An ass, mind you. But understandable. These are characters with spirit, and I loved their interactions. The personalities of each character turn what is basically a McGuffin hunt into a parable of personal worth, trust, and compassion that crosses the boundaries of circumstance, species, and even death.

The Lingo

Writing Style

In the voice of Opal, this story takes us on a fun and twisty trip through the DFZ. With the character’s commentary, you’ll go from the depths of despair to the heights of exaltation. And you’ll love the rollercoaster.


The Moves


Twisting, turning and taking us to unexpected places, this story does a wonderful job of keeping you guessing without feeling gimmicky.

Overall Rating

This one went into my personal collection. Like Opal, it’s a gem!