BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: American Magic


Title: American Magic

Publisher: Atria

Author: Zach Fehst

Pages: 320pp

Price: $27.00 (hc) / $12.99 (ebook)

Release Date: 20 August 2019

Ben Zolstra was once one of the CIA's top operatives. But when he grew disillusioned with the Agency's mission and leadership, he left in disgrace. Eila Mack is a former nurse, out of work due to her alcoholism and now trapped in an abusive relationship. Under normal circumstances, they would never have crossed paths. But these are not normal circumstances: someone is releasing magic spells on the dark web. Spells that actually work. Spells that Eila can cast. With each new spell, the world sinks further into chaos; governments panic, businesses shut down, militaries revolt, and assassinations and terrorist attacks become increasingly common. Their only chance to restore some semblance of peace and order is to track down the binding spell which will shut away all magic once and for all ....

I found an advance copy of American Magic on netgalley. Intrigued by the description, I downloaded and read it immediately. Overall, I found it to be an imaginative and entertaining read.

Zolstra and Mack are deeply sympathetic protagonists. Zolstra is an honorable man who does what needs to be done, but on his own terms. Mack is strong-willed and intelligent, but she has fallen so far down the hole of alcoholism and abuse that she has forgotten her own worth; whereas Zolstra sees magic as a threat, for Mack it is just what she needs to lift herself back up again.

Fehst does a great job of showing both the positives and negatives of magic suddenly being loosed on the world. In this case, magic has always existed -- but it has been the sole domain of a few families for thousands of years. Now one of them has turned traitor and, with the revelation of each additional spell, more and more ordinary people are discovering their inherent magical abilities. Some, like Mack, use their (new) abilities for self-defense or to help other people. But ... well ... there are soon headlines around the world about prison breaks, armed robberies, riots, and assassinations, all performed with magic. In a world in which telekinesis and invisibility are real, how can anyone feel safe?

While I liked Zolstra and Mack and enjoyed the world-building, the narrative did stumble in a few places. For one, the lone wolf agent who has to be called out of retirement/exile to save the world is an oft-used trope in political thrillers. It is used a lot. It would have been nice to see something different here. Additionally, Director Harris of the CIA is such an over-the-top, egocentric cartoon villain that I same to envision him as bald and chewing on a cigar like some sort of Lex Luthor wannabe. Finally, there was absolutely no reason for a romance to develop between Zolstra and Mack. While it was a background element to the larger story, I still found it distracting.

Despite those stumbles, I very much enjoyed American Magic. It's exciting and fast-paced, filled with cool magic and narrow escapes, and the two protagonists at the heart of the narrative are sympathetic and utterly relatable.

Recommended to fans of the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Clara Coulson's Frost Arcana series, Gretchen Galway's Dead Witch on a Bridge, and Helen Harper's City of Magic series.  

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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