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Walking the Labyrinth
Lisa Goldstein
Tor Books, $12.95 US
Trade paperback reprint, 256 pages
Publication date: February 1998

Walking the Labyrinth
Lisa Goldstein
Lisa Goldstein is the author of the American Book Award-winning novel The Red Magician, Tourists (Orb 1994) and Summer King, Winter Fool (Tor 1995). She lives in Berkeley, California.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Katharine Mills

Walking the Labyrinth is something like a classic mystery story - indeed, at one point, there are two murders, one nearly a century old, hanging around wanting explanation. But a golden thread of magic runs through the tale, making it as deceptively enchanting as the performances of the Travelling Allalies. They are the beginning of the story, a touring family of vaudeville magicians whose act has an extra something that no one else can duplicate. Molly Travers is a descendant of theirs, but she doesn't know it until private investigator John Stow tells her so. He has been tracking her down on the orders of a client he won't name, all because of this vaudevillian connection.

Molly, who has grown up knowing almost nothing of her family (she is an orphan, raised by a reticent great-aunt) is fascinated by these freshly-unearthed roots. Her journey into her own origins takes her from America to England and back, and what she finds out is at least as startling for her as it is for the reader.

The "Labyrinth" of the title is the symbol and chief magical tool of the Order of the Labyrinth, a magical organization along the lines of the Golden Dawn from which, it seems, the Travelling Allalies sprang. Halfway through the book, we're taken deeper into the labyrinth through the diary of Molly's ancestor Emily Wethers, a medium of the Order, and a second story winds into the first. By the end, I was reading to find out about her fate as much as Molly's.

Although the plot of Walking the Labyrinth moves fast, it seems to be restrained by Molly's influence and never rushes. She is an attractive character, independent, stubborn and plain-spoken. Indeed, the whole book has a commonplace, earthy style that weaves the fantastic neatly into the everyday. There are some fascinating details, like the Labyrinth itself and Emily's diary, that keep things interesting, and at the end, like Ariadne's thread, the whole thing winds up into a tidy ball.

I admit, there were a couple of things that bothered me. At the beginning, Molly is pretty clear about her dislike for John Stow; she doesn't trust him, and tells several people that she isn't going to give him any information about her family. And yet, not only does she call him to tell him more, but she flies to England with him to explore the manor house that was the centre of the Order. Maybe she's driven by her new-found curiosity about her family, but this is never fully explained. Their friendship is one of the central points of the book, but it appears out of nowhere, with no apparent motivation. (This lack of development mars a couple of other relationships portrayed in the book as well. It seemed to me as though, now and then, Goldstein just jumped from event to event, and neglected the movement in between.)

The other thing that struck me as peculiar was the unusual lack of worldly ambition in the magically gifted Allalies. Given the way their powers were portrayed, it seemed unlikely that the only two instances of abuse would be for - relatively - trivial reasons. The rest of the family are veritable saints. Call me cynical, but I think there would have been a little bit more work for personal gain happening.

However, despite these inconsistencies, Walking the Labyrinth was an enjoyable read. The two mysteries, Molly's modern one and Emily Wethers' turn-of-the-century one, are beautifully linked together. Goldstein has a quaint and amusing touch with her characters, making them eccentric without sacrificing details, and her quiet humour catches the reader by surprise. Not, perhaps, a book for the Shelf of Greatness, but a very pleasant diversion, light yet filling.

Copyright © 1998 Katharine Mills

Katharine Mills would like to read for a living, but those jobs are few and far between. She lives in Southern Ontario with her big hairy husband and three small hairy cats.

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