STARRED REVIEW
May 07, 2020

Strange magic: two unique new fantasy novels

Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

STARRED REVIEW

Strange magic: two unique new fantasy novels

May 07, 2020

Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

STARRED REVIEW
May 07, 2020

Strange magic: two unique new fantasy novels

May 07, 2020

Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

STARRED REVIEW
May 07, 2020

Strange magic: two unique new fantasy novels

Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

STARRED REVIEW
May 07, 2020

Strange magic: two unique new fantasy novels

Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

May 07, 2020

Strange magic: two unique new fantasy novels

Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

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Magic, in some form or another, has been an integral part of human culture as long as people have told stories. It is an informal codification of the ineffable forces that lie just outside human understanding, whether it manifests as the will of the gods, the encroachment of a chthonic netherworld or parallel realm or an arcane incantation by candlelight. As a genre, fantasy has contended with this uncertain nature in every way imaginable, and a great many contemporary writers have concocted beautifully detailed magic systems to govern their fantastic realms. But few writers make the attempt to uncover the system behind magic quite as central to their stories as W.M. Akers and Molly Tanzer.

Gilda Carr, the heroine of Akers’ Westside Saints, is a detective specializing in “small mysteries,” such as finding a lost glove or a specific shade of blue. But her natural skepticism often drives her, against her best intentions, to turn her small mysteries into quests to explain the bizarre happenings occurring around her in an alternate Manhattan during the 1920s. For Gilda, human rules that forbid lock-picking and govern social status are irrelevant and easily broken, but natural rules—shadows should not eat people, the dead should stay dead—matter a great deal. So when those immutable laws begin to mutate, Gilda sets off to uncover why, resulting in a magical mystery that ends by revealing not only the agent responsible for the chaos, but also the mechanism they manipulated, warped or outright broke to accomplish it.

In a very real sense, Akers’ stories are about his magical system, probing the limitations of reality and what happens when it is unexpectedly torn. This process is enabled by the strength of his leads, especially Gilda herself, whose practicality and sentiment are constantly at loggerheads. Akers can be a touch matter-of-fact regarding significant events, but his characterization and magic-building are as believable as it gets.

Tanzer’s Creatures of Charm and Hunger, on the other hand, is set in a world where the discipline of summoning demons, called “diabolism,” is not only real, but constrained to a kind of incremental scientific inquiry. This constraint is itself a source of frustration for Jane Blackwood, a budding diabolist whose thirst for glamour is barely slaked by the staid, bookish approach her mother Nancy, the Librarian for the leading diabolist society, favors. Jane’s fellow apprentice, Miriam Cantor, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, is perfectly at home among the stacks and catalogues. When Miriam’s parents disappear into the shadows of the Third Reich amid whispers of treachery, she begins delving ever deeper into the most dangerous branches of diabolism.

Tanzer’s masterful depiction of the relationships among Jane, Miriam and Nancy meshes perfectly with the precision of her magical system. Jane’s ambition and insecurity, along with Miriam’s drive and idealism, run up against immutable limits of diabolism, and their inability to transcend Tanzer’s rules is itself the cause of inevitable tragedy.

Both books are excellent examples of how novel magical systems can drive entire narratives. Westside Saints and Creatures of Charm and Hunger are more than deserving of the spotlight, and are wonderful examples of this remarkable trend in fantasy writing today.

Get the Books

Westside Saints

Westside Saints

By W.M. Akers
Harper Voyager
ISBN 9780062854049
Creatures of Charm and Hunger

Creatures of Charm and Hunger

By Molly Tanzer
Mariner
ISBN 9780358065210

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