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My Low GPA Kept Me Out of Hogwarts. Where Can I Turn for Instruction?

February 4, 2010 by Reader's Connection

Flesh and FireIf I do a subject search in our catalog for “magic” and limit the format to “Fiction, Printed, Adult” and insist on books published in 2009 or 2010, I retrieve 125 titles. Isn´t that rather a lot?

The titles on order don´t yet know if they´re fiction for adults, but even if you get rid of a few of those, you´ve got at least a hundred novels for grown-ups involving magic.

I’m reading three of these books at once. All three of them have bewildering preludes, and each involves some sort of battle between good and evil, but beyond that each of them has a very different feel.

When I looked at the jacket for Laura Anne Gilman’s Flesh and Fire (it was on our holiday gift list), and saw that her magic was combined with winemaking, I thought, Oh, please.  But I’m two hundred pages into it, now, and I’m quite involved with her alternate world. Jerzy is a slave working for Malech, Master Vineart of the House of Malech. The magic in this novel is indeed involved with the growing of grapes and the making of wine–different kinds of wine for different kinds of magic–and a Vineart is a vine-mage, a chief of wine-magic. Malech takes his young slave aside and introduces him (and the reader) to the inner, secret ways . . . okay, I can’t describe this without sounding dopey, but Publishers Weekly gave Gilman credit for “a unique, pleasingly consistent magic system,” and I’m with them. The novel also offers an interesting variation on the separation of Church and State.


The Mystery of Grace

Charles de Lint’s The Mystery of Grace is a whole different bunch of grapes. Altagracia “Grace” Quintero lives in the American Southwest, has lots of tattoos and loves to work on hot rod cars, so she doesn’t seem to have much in common with Jerzy, the vine-mage’s slave. But she too is introduced into a world where magic controls certain aspects of life. Her new world, in fact, has more or less been created by magic, though it takes her a while to figure that out.

I’ve already finished The Mystery of Grace–it’s shorter than the other two novels featured here–and I have to say that it’s quite satisfying, and that the closing pages are moving. De Lint’s success depends on his continually enriching the “non-magical” Southwestern town, adding new characters and new background up through the final episodes, at the same time he’s building the strange new dimension into which Grace stumbles.


LamentationWith Lamentation by Ken Scholes we move to a far-future world, though not necessarily a future version of the planet Earth. I’m only a little over a hundred pages into this one, and it’s the first of a projected five-novel series, so my toes are barely wet.

 Chapters are short, and the reader hops around among the points of view of four different characters–an orphan, an ex-Pope, the Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, and the consort of the deranged Overseer of the . . . well, I don’t want to lose you before you get started.

I was worried at first that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Here and there a paragraph is packed with historical info about Ken Scholes’s world, and I wondered if I was supposed to be taking notes. But Scholes knows what he’s doing, and he allows his characters, whose paths cross in interesting ways, to gradually fill us in on what’s going on–and what’s been happening for the past few thousand years.

The magic in Lamentation is being practiced pretty widely. In Flesh and Fire, it is largely controlled by the vine-mages, and I might get magicked in a bad way if I tell you who’s running the show in The Mystery of Grace. But all sorts of people in the far-future Lamentation have access to pouches of magic stuff–actually created through far-future science, of course–which, among its other properties, makes you invisible.
The magicks had not only enhanced her speed and strength, but also her sight and her sense of smell. The trade-off was the buzzing in her ears and the shifting headache. Her father had seen to it that she was trained in all manner of subterfuge, including the use of stealth magic even though it was considered unseemly for a noble to use the Elder Ways.

In conclusion: If you’ve been away from Hogwarts and are suffering from Alma Mater- sickness, or like me you were never admitted in the first place, rest assured. There’s plenty of magic being practiced in our fiction.

1 comment »

  1. robin says:

    I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically second Ken Scholes! I listened to it via downloadable audio and it was fantastic. I’m now reading book 2, Canticle, and find myself just as engaged.

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