Sometimes you might wish you had a little more magic in your life, but as these novels show magic doesn’t always make your life easier, but the supernatural always make it a lot more interesting.
The Swan Gondola, by Timothy Schaffert
The Swan Gondola is a tragic love story set at the fictional 1898 Omaha World’s Fair. This fair is based on the actual historic Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition, but there are many dark fanciful elements that give the book a storybook quality. Ferret, a magician and ventriloquist, has a dummy that can do everything from talk via a tiny record player in his head to light a cigarette. In his Author’s Note, Schaffert mentions that he was inspired by the Wizard of Oz, who in L. Frank Baum’s story was from Nebraska and was a ventriloquist’s apprentice. Although not a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, The Swan Gondola takes a great deal of inspiration from the novel and fans of Baum’s series will enjoy finding the references to the Oz stories throughout. At times I found myself exasperated by Ferret’s, foolish lovesick behavior, but this may be partially that even when flawed the main characters are charismatic and leave the reader rooting for them and hoping for their success. The novel ended very differently than I had expected, but still in a way that is satisfying. The last section includes elements of spiritualism which was historically influential in turn of the century America, but adds another element of the fantastic. Overall The Swan Gondola charmed me and I will probably seek out some of Schaffert’s other works to read in the future. If you are interested in reading the Oz series that inspired it checkout our previous blog post on Oz.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic sounded like it would be a fun supernatural chicklit book, but it was much darker in tone and more complex than I expected. Barker’s first novel revolves around Nora, a floundering grad student from NJ, who accidentally wanders into another realm and learns that not only is magic real, but she also has a talent for it. My favorite part of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is the beginning where Nora has been enchanted by fairies and the ominous feeling and disorientation that the reader feels beneath the beautiful exterior of the fairy realm. Fans of Deborah Harkness’s books should enjoy this book, however, it is much more swords and sorcery and less urban fantasy. I enjoyed the way Barker uses things like poetry and algebra as forms of magic in the story. As a poet I loved the way she worked in quotes from different famous poems such as William Carlos William’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”. I would have liked to see more of Nora in our world to get a better feel for her as character in that environment; hopefully Barker’s next book will focus on that more. Be warned the conclusion of the novel is definitely open ended and clearly is meant to lure you into reading the second in the planned trilogy, which has not yet been published.
Midnight Crossroad, by Charlaine Harris
In Charlaine Harris’s latest urban fantasy infused mystery, Midnight Crossroad residents include a talented witch with her very own cat familiar, a vampire, a psychic, and other mysterious characters. This is the first in Harris’ new series which is set in the Midnight, Texas. We are first introduced to the character of Manfred Bernardo who was a secondary character in her Harper Connelly series. Although much of the novel focuses on him, several other characters including Fiji, the witch, and Bobo, the pawn shop owner are also a major focus (if I had one complaint about the series it was the ridiculous nicknames of all the characters). The quirky dark town itself also truly feels like character. Unlike with her Sookie Stackhouse series, where it felt like vampires and shape shifters are everywhere, in this series the small town of Midnight (with its single traffic light) seems particularly unique. It reminded me a bit in this of my favorite podcast, the wonderful quirky Nightvale where the unexpected is the expected. I found the novel to be a quick read with moments of humor interspersed with the darkness. The story seems to also be making a statement about the monsters of myth such as vampires and witches versus the monsters of our real world like racists and sociopaths and where the evil truly lies. I had begun to become disappointed in some of Harris’s later Sookie novels, but I’m looking forward to reading the next in the Midnight, Texas series.
-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference