The Magician

Carla Cook
2002, Paranormal Romance
LoveSpell, $5.99, 307 pages, Amazon ASIN 0505524902

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

The Magician is an overly melodramatic story of good vs. evil, Satan vs - well, not God, but Good, anyway. The big problem with the book is that, as a horror story, it's somewhat undefined and, as a romance, it's somewhat rushed. As a result it doesn't quite work either way.

Kathleen Marlowe has only just recovered from the shock of losing her husband in a car crash, when her young daughter comes down with some strange and very frightening symptoms. One night Kathleen goes to check on her daughter Gina as she is sleeping, and discovers that she's cold as ice and not breathing. Kathleen rushes her to the emergency room, but, once there, Gina wakes up and the hospital staff is unable to determine that there's anything wrong. Yet the attacks continue, and Kathleen is at her wits' end. She would do anything to save her daughter from this toxic sleep and the frightening dreams that plague her.

Lucas Connelly is a professional magician whose act is getting punchier lately. Lucas doesn't know what's going on, but he seems to have gained some supernatural powers. He also has visions of a little girl in great need. One night he gets a flash of her name: Gina Marlowe. He knows he has to help her and knows that the fate of the world somehow depends on her welfare. Lucas searches Gina out, but her mother stands in the way. Kathleen doesn't trust him and doesn't see a reason to let him near her daughter. Can Lucas change her mind before it's too late? And why does Kathleen seem so very familiar and dear? Can he have known her in another life?

The first and most vital problem this story has is that it's bogged down in melodrama. The evil characters aren't just evil, they're Evil with a capital E, and they like being that way. The villain, Thanatos, isn't just about advancing himself; he's attempting "to bring the Lord of Darkness back to his rightful place as king of the world." He laughs with diabolical glee into the dark night. His female consort underling rejoices in her own depravity. It was difficult to take the book too seriously when so many characters seemed permanently stuck in this over-the-top, end-of-the-world, the-Bogeyman-is-coming mentality.

Cook does a pretty good job of creating an ominous mood when the characters aren't waxing theatrical, but at the end of the story, many questions still remained unanswered, and the explanations she gives for the evil haunting Gina weren't satisfying. Perhaps that's because the villain was entirely one-dimensional, and the main characters weren't much better. If their personalities and corresponding motivations had been more deeply explored, this might have been a stronger story overall.

Adding to the confusion was the book's sloppy theology. Cook mixes and matches religious beliefs with little concern that they refute each other. At various points in the story, the reader is presented with the ideas of Satan and Satanism, Heaven, the Apocalypse, reincarnation, and detachable souls. While Satan and the Apocalypse are Christian ideas, reincarnation certainly is not, and the detachable souls thing seems like something out of a corny horror movie.

The reincarnated lovers plot is difficult to pull off satisfactorily in my estimation. It seems this storyline generally results in rushed emotions between the hero and heroine since the author can claim that they already "know" each other. That's certainly true here, and it's unfortunate. Regardless of any past life relationship, Kathleen and Lucas would have benefitted from more time together to learn to trust each other and fall in love again. Their love for each other just isn't very convincing.

The Magician simply doesn't succeed in either its romantic or horrific capacities. It's a quick read, though, and one that will hold the readers' attention, which can't be said about all books graded at this level. When I wasn't going, "Oh, yeah, like that could happen" and rolling my eyes, I was turning the page to see what would happen next. Cook threw in a number of twists, some that worked and some that didn't. The ones that worked were kind of fun. That's not much of a recommendation, though. As far as Apocalyptic or end-of-the-world stories go, you could do worse...but you could also do better.

LLB: For a great end-of-the-world book, try Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It's brilliant.

-- Rachel Potter

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