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Bad Magic
Stephan Zielinski
Tor hardcover $23.95

review by Christopher Geary

Open your third eye. Gaze around you. The wicked Incumbents are spreading their totemic power through elemental forces, alchemy, demonology, and bullets. The new hard currency of this post-Buffy universe is raw pain, and here it is stored (ready for sale or trade) frozen in cryogenic flasks. Ordinary folks are blissfully unaware of what's really happening in the world, because their many encounters with the weirdness of dark or light magic spells are instantly blanked from all living human memory. Nothing is exactly what it seems; no wonder everything's so badly screwed up...

Opposing the Incumbents in California we find the San Francisco crew of magick practicing heroes with both the will and the wherewithal to fight the good fight. As much like a team of plain-clothes superheroes as a squabbling gang of occultists (they don't argue over who gets to wear the cape, or light the candles, but they rarely agree on anything important and always differ on trivial matters!) in the underground resistance movement against evil, they strive to preserve some kind of order in the supernatural milieu. Under a haunted sky the colour of grief they must bear the cosmic burden of 'knowing'. Corporeal reality and fascinating dream stuff occupy the same plane. But this fantasy adventure isn't old-fashioned portentous, Dennis Wheatley fiction; it's wildly ingenious and entertaining with varied postmodern modes of 'new age' necromancy.

Rider is a 'synesthetic' mage, or at least an ambitious student of the uncanny arts. Although she's trenchantly domesticated, Maggie-Sue is a very powerful and dangerous witch. Chloe, whose water-totem is "Seattle's mighty patron, the Mollusk of Glory: the geoduck clam" is thankfully less feisty in contrast. Washington is into voodoo; Arbeiter likes guns and is handy in a shootout. The name of Creedon Thiebaud is rarely spoken aloud, partly because he usually arrives and departs unseen. Other members have esoteric skills that defy easy tagging. Rider & Co realise that serious trouble is brewing when some of the gang are attacked by a pack of venomous "thin dogs." Afflicted with the "Lockjaw of Doom," it takes extreme measures to save the victims. After that episode, our heroes decide they must risk a visit to San Diego, where the whole place is already overrun with zombies, and from there they must ultimately engage in a desperate showdown with minions of the dreaded Vulture cult.

An outlandish and yet effortless fusion of TV's Angel, John Carpenter's Big Trouble In Little China, plus shades of Marvel comics' Dr Strange, this energetic first novel by Stephan Zielinski fields highly cinematic action scenes with virtually indescribable Lovecraftian monstrosities. Stylishly comic prose of often startling brevity keeps everything ticking or rushing along, and it's extraordinarily good fun once you're properly attuned to this American author's Twilight Zone inspired lunacies of anything-can-happen, savage irreverence.
Bad Magic

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