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I first read Tinker when it came out in 2003. It quickly became one of my favorites because of the heroine Tinker (who is an engineer who runs a junkyard), and a great deal of the world building. The setting is Pittsburgh, which has had a variable location between Earth and Elfhome since the Chinese built an interdimensional gate in orbit. Tinker has lived her entire life in Pittsburgh and many of her inventions take advantage of the magical energy available on Elfhome.
One night during Shutdown (the time when Pittsburgh is on Earth) she rescues an elf who is being chased by giant monster dogs through her junkyard. The elf in question is Windwolf, who had saved her from an escaped saurus when she was a child. (Elfhome has dinosaurs. And carnivorous trees. And river sharks.) After saving her, he subsequently marked her with a spell that she believes will possibly do something horrible to her if Windwolf dies, so she has lots of additional incentive to keep the elf alive and in one piece.
During the very complicated mess of getting Windwolf to the elven hospice once Pittsburgh returns to Earth, Tinker discovers that Windwolf is actually Wolf Who Rules Wind, the elven viceroy of the continent that is analogous to Earth’s Americas. She also discovers that Windwolf’s spell was an indication that he owes her his life and not the reverse. (Apparently, she had distracted the dinosaur long enough for him to get a killing shot.) She also accidentally gets married, is turned into an elf by Windwolf and learns that there is a third world the elves call Onihida which is a world with a great deal of magic and a severe overpopulation problem. Onihida is trying to invade Elfhome, which the elves absolutely do not want because the Oni are kind of horrible.
It also turns out that Tinker is actually the daughter of the man who invented the space-gate, and who was murdered during a kidnapping attempt. Some NSA agents attempt to apprehend her, thinking that she is “Alexander Graham Bell’s” girlfriend. (Actually, her grandfather just gave her a boy’s name, and since she was born several years after her father’s death thanks to the wonders of artificial insemination. The NSA agents are looking for an adult man instead of an eighteen year old girl.) This causes an entirely new level of kerfuffle since Tinker has been brought into the Wind Clan by Windwolf/Wolf Who Rules Wind.
Tinker learns from the NSA agents that people who might be able to create a new space gate are being kidnapped and murdered by unknown persons. (Which is why they had tried to strong-arm her; they were concerned and this made them stupid.) The thing that had tipped off the NSA was because she had given in to a friend’s constant nagging and had passed the entrance exam for a college on Earth. (No good deed goes unpunished.)
This book has a lot of action, and Tinker keeps getting thrown from situation to situation, resulting in a sort of scramble until she can finally get to a situation where she can act. The constant confusion and reacting instead of acting would have become annoying if not for the pacing of the book which was fast and engaging. (Annoying because I don’t like books where the character mostly just reacts to whatever situation the writer is throwing at them instead of the character taking action.)
A few things that might be disturbing is the story line with Nate, a family friend of Tinker’s, who is apparently unable to take no for an answer, and a somewhat graphic rape scene. (These are actually two separate occasions. Nate is prevented from assaulting Tinker. The second incident involves a female oni antagonist who is raped as a form of punishment after Tinker’s first escape attempt from the oni.)
The romantic element is a little fast but in a strange way can be attributed to Windwolf being an elf. (He figures he needs to move quickly since he is immortal and Tinker is not.) There are some real fun moments in Tinker and Windwolf’s interactions, and the more intimate scenes are very well written.