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Literature / DFZ

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"Gonna be one of those jobs, I see."
Opal Yong-ae

Opal Yong-ae is a Cleaner, a freelancer who cleans out empty apartments in the hopes of finding something valuable she is allowed to sell. Facing a mounting debt to a very dangerous individual, she takes a few jobs she shouldn't and finds a dead body in one of the apartments. This leads her to a conspiracy of torture and mayhem, hopefully with a very large payout on the other side.

Because in the Detroit Free Zone, anything is possible—but there is no one to protect you.

Sequel to The Heartstrikers series, the first book, Minimum Wage Magic, was released in November 2018 with second released the following year on June 9th titled Part-Time Gods.


This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Opal's parents explicitly see her as their property, despite the fact that they constantly belittle and insult her as not being good enough.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: Toned down from the previous series. The DFZ is still a free city without any regulations on health or magic use, but at least there are some laws. There is a functioning government (the Cleaners technically work for them, albeit as freelancers), some attempt at public safety is made, and murder is actually illegal.
  • An Aesop: The "shortsighted goals lead to short lived victories" aesop from the first series is still present. More front and center, however, is "money can't buy happiness."
    Opal: I want to be rich just as much as you do! That's why I bust my butt as a Cleaner, but I also know that money isn't everything. I know this, because I tried to buy freedom and integrity and love, and I couldn't. But while you can't buy them, you can absolutely sell them. That's why I'm fighting you so hard on this. You're about to sell something that money can't buy.
  • Bulletproof Vest:
    • Opal's mother bought her an enchanted poncho that can protect her from basically anything. Opal uses it when Cleaning to protect from diseases, minor magic, and small animals, but it can also survive a bullet. One bullet, and then it needs to be recharged.
    • Nik's coat is a more traditional bulletproof vest. Funnily enough, he rarely needs it, as he himself is bulletproof.
  • Cool Car: Nik's manual sports car, which runs on gasoline and has no onboard AI. Nik insists that it's purely practical (no AI means nothing to get hacked, high performance means he can catch or escape anything he wants), but he gets embarrassed when Opal asks if he named it.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Cyberware interferes with a mage's magic, so most mages choose to go without a prosthetic if they lose a limb. Opal is surprised that Dr. Lyle chose to get one. He used it to hide the coordinates of his ritual.
  • Cyborg: Cyberware is extremely common in the DFZ. Nik has a lot of cyberware, though it's not as obvious as most.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Opal's is relatively tame, but being born under the orders of a dragon means she belongs to him. While she admits her life wasn't horrible, she was still not free, and she's willing to do almost anything to keep away from him.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Empty Wind, the Spirit of the Forgotten Dead, is absolutely terrifying, but in the end his job is simply to protect those who have been forgotten and find them justice. When he almost kills Nik for desecrating a corpse, Opal is able to talk him down partly by admitting they should have just gone to him for help in the first place. Nik wonders at one point if Empty Wind is trying to get them to die somewhere they will be forgotten so he can claim their souls; Opal scoffs at this.
  • Genius Loci: The Detroit Free Zone is ruled over by the Spirit of the DFZ herself. She is able to rearrange any part of herself, grow new buildings, and twist roads around like snakes. Government buildings are relatively stable and she always makes sure the Peacemaker's Consulate has clear skies, but other than that everything is fair game. You need a good GPS just to know where your destination is today, let alone how to get there.
  • Gilded Cage: Opal was a Lonely Rich Kid who was given absolutely everything her parents thought she wanted, but never anything she actually wanted.
    Opal: You gave me a handcrafted Steinway baby grand piano for my twelfth birthday. I don't even play!
    Yong: You could have learned.
  • Good Feels Good: In the end, Nik admits that while he's mad at Opal in the short term for convincing him to give up sixty percent of seven million, he'll feel better in the long term. And that's certainly better than when he normally sells out, where he feels great at first for getting a bunch of money, but soon feels terrible.
  • Immune to Bullets: Nik has a lot of cyberware, to the point that bullets just bounce off him.
  • Meaningful Name: An opal is "a pretty gem of little value," hinting at how her parents are more interested in her for appearances than anything else. Her family name means "dragon's love," making the twist blatantly obvious if you speak Korean.
  • Physical God: The DFZ is uniquely both the Spirit of the DFZ and the spirit of the physical city. This makes her an interesting intersection of spirit types; apparently many papers have been written on the subject.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Nik's high-end sports car. Some of his old friends are surprised that he let Opal ride in it at all.
  • Pride: Opal's father refuses to let her go for no reason than because she belongs to him. Losing her would be an insult. She is also the only person he owns who doesn't love and adore him, which makes him angry.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Empty Wind, the Spirit of the Forgotten Dead, helps Opal and Nik once Opal explains the situation to him. She apologizes for not just asking for his help in the first place.
    • The Peacemaker, the Dragon of Detroit, is one of the few real authority figures in the DFZ. He has a list of banned substances and items; while they're not technically illegal, no one will go against the Peacemaker by trading them. Much of the plot kicks off because cockatrices are on his list, and Dr. Lyle invented a ritual to make cockatrice eggs. In the end, Opal calls the Peacemaker to save the cockatrice chicks.
  • Skeleton Key: Cleaners receive a key from the DFZ herself that will open any lock in the city so long as they have a right to be there. Normally that means buying the apartment, but occasionally they will accidentally buy an apartment that isn't actually legal (such as if the resident paid their rent through a magical contract with the city, which doesn't show up on paperwork), and they won't be able to get in. They don't get a refund if that happens.
  • Spanner in the Works: Dr. Lyle's accidental death screwed up everyone's plans. It of course screwed up Lyle's plans to lay low until the time was right, but it also screwed up his employer's plans to capture him and torture him for the ritual site. In fact, they spend most of the book under the mistaken impression that he is still alive, screwing themselves over several times as they make decisions based on that assumption.
  • Ugly Cute: Adult cockatrices are beautiful. Newborn chicks look like half-dead chickens.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Opal is a powerful mage, but despite years of very expensive schooling she just can't wrap her head around proper thaumaturgy. Her typical approach to magic is to grab a big chunk of it and throw it at the problem.

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