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Stealing Magic
Tanya Huff
EDGE, 250 pages

Stealing Magic
Tanya Huff
Tanya Huff is probably best known for her Blood novels, about a modern vampire's crime-fighting alliance with a Toronto ex-cop: Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines, Blood Pact and Blood Debt and it has been turned into a TV series called Blood Ties. She has also written more than fourteen other novels and her short stories have appeared in numerous fantasy magazines. She currently lives and writes in rural Ontario.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Stealing Magic
SF Site Review: Smoke and Shadows
SF Site Review: The Second Summoning
SF Site Reading List: Tanya Huff
SF Site Review: Wizard of the Grove
SF Site Review: Summon the Keeper
SF Site Review: Blood Debt

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

This short story collection is really two collections, one telling of the wizard Magdalene, the other chronicling the adventures of the thief Terazin (whose name is sometimes rendered as "Terizan", but I think the former is the intended spelling). The two "books" are bound back-to-back in a single volume (nice format, but it seems unnecessary to print the author's afterword and all the adverts at the back twice). The telling is bright and breezy (a world away from the stilted, formal prose of so much fantasy of that ilk), the tone generally light; as Tanya Huff writes in the afterword, "there should always be room for a few laughs." Quite so, though that approach is not without its shortcomings, as we'll see.

To take the "magic" half of the collection first, three main qualities define Magdalene: great power (she's the most powerful wizard in the world, no less), laziness (she even has a stairway to the Netherhells in her house, because you never know when those demons will decide to act up, and she doesn't want to have to travel far to deal with them) and randiness (she is forever flirting -- sometimes more -- with the men who come her way). The last of these becomes particularly wearying (for the reader, if not for Magdalene!), which is a shame, because many of the flirt jokes genuinely raise a smile; it's just that there are so many of them that the idea starts to wear thin after a time. Perhaps it would seem less so if one were reading one of these stories on its own in a magazine, but it's rather more noticeable when they're all assembled together.

Magdalene's extreme power is similarly a double-edged sword; I don't need to outline the difficulties inherent in building and maintaining dramatic tension when your protagonist can do pretty much whatever she wants, up to and including killing and resurrecting someone at will. To her credit, Huff makes this work for her, cracking jokes that depend on Magdalene's easy access to powerful magic (often jokes along the lines of, "You, turn me into a mouse? Don't make me la... squeak"). Sometimes the stories themselves are only possible because of this, as in the case of "Third Time Lucky," where Magdalene faces another wizard who seeks to defeat her -- and the joke in the ending just wouldn't work if Magdalene were not the most powerful wizard in the world.

Still, there is a certain glossing over this exercise of great power; and, whilst I enjoy light-hearted comedy as much as the next reader, it is often more satisfying when counterbalanced by a bit of grit. It's not until the last and newest story, "We Two May Meet" (in which Magdalene wakes to find two of herself, different sides of her personality in two separate bodies) that the wizard really starts to consider the implications of her abilities. For me, this is the best (and perhaps the funniest) of the Magdalene stories, with the most interesting fantasy notions. Though they're all amiable and amusing, its serious undertones give the last tale that extra dimension.

I wouldn't describe the Terazin stories as particularly weighty, but they are that shade darker than Magdalene's tales, because (as Huff notes), the thief has to work harder to solve her problems (though she's still the best at what she does), and she just isn't as exuberant a personality as the wizard. Though there are still jokes, they aren't as many, or as relentless (far from being an outrageous flirt, Terazin has eyes only for the mercenary captain Swan). That works in these stories' favour, making the "stealing" half of the book the more satisfying as a whole. The stories of Terazin also take more interesting and unexpected turns, as in "The Lions of al'Kalamir," where the "lions" that Terazin has been warned to beware as she retrieves a prince's regalia aren't quite what she (or this reader) expected.

Taken as a whole, Stealing Magic succeeds in being all it wants to be: an entertainment with which you can happily while away a few hours. So, if that's what you're in the mood for, take a look.

Copyright © 2007 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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