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Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane
edited by Jonathan Oliver
Solaris, 271 pages

Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane
Jonathan Oliver
Jonathan Oliver is the Editor-in-Chief of Solaris and Abaddon Books. He is the author of two novels in the Twilight of Kerberos series, The Call of Kerberos and The Wrath of Kerberos, as well as a bunch of short stories that have appeared in a variety of places. He lives in Abingdon with his family.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'What if it isn't?"

"Okay, quite apart from the various geographical issues involved, don't you think it's unlikely one man could have coordinated the careers of… what was it again? Wolsey, Cromwell, and James 1st and…and… Machiavelli? This Lucci chap would have had to be a very old man.

"He wasn't always called Lucci," he said.

Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane is a short sometimes sweet anthology, including the works of fifteen authors variously celebrated -- some deservedly so -- and others living on the fumes. There is no single theme to the collection, or anything to connect the individual plots, but the overall tone is a dark one, and concerns the dangers to both the victims and the practitioners whenever the power of magic is abused. Exactly how said magic works and the rules that govern it also vary greatly between authors, which comes in handy for readers who find they don't like a particular contribution. Something different is only ever a few page turns away.

The majority of the works on offer here are set firmly in the real world, albeit places where forms of magic -- or at least the existence of supernature -- are accepted and recognised as a part of reality. As is to be expected, some stars shine brighter than others, and a couple of contributions are clearly cobbled together efforts which do not stretch the muscles of the imagination very much. Among the better examples are "The Baby," a magical horror story by Christopher Fowler, featuring a teen girl impregnated by her musician idol, who finds the solution to her troubles is worse than accepting them. Dan Abnett's "Party Tricks" combines the smouldering evil of political manipulation with subtle magics, ending with a nice twist that may befuddle some readers. "If I Die, Kill My Cat" by Sarah Lotz is a quirky inclusion with a refreshingly different setting, and Gail Z. Martin's "Buttons" uses characters from her Deadly Curiosities universe to tell a straightforward, but nevertheless charming tale about a woman with the talent to discern psychic impressions from everyday objects. Perhaps the star inclusion, in terms of previous literary plaudits if not outright creativity, comes from Audrey Niffenegger, whose work "The Wrong Fairy" concerns the otherworldly visions of Conan Doyle's dying father.

Did I like this work? Yes, but I'd have to admit to it being in fits and starts. Not everything worked as well as it could have, which given the names involved was a little disappointing. It's not the most stellar collection ever released, but Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane has its fair share of sparkle, and the better work outweighs the lesser material. Editor Jonathan Oliver has done a good job of choosing stories that introduce the writers featured, whose efforts will either encourage readers to seek out more, or help them know who they prefer to steer clear of in future. In some measure, a win-win.

Copyright © 2013 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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