Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Review: Black Magic Woman, by Justin Gustainis
Black Magic Woman, by Justin Gustainis
published in 2009 by Solaris
Quincey Morris (a descendant of the character of the same name from Dracula) is a supernatural troubleshooter, called in to handle anything from a passel of Texas vampires, to poltergeists and evil curses. After beating up on some vamps in the first chapter (which seems to have originally been a short story of its own), Morris is called upon to investigate an escalating series of supernatural seeming events afflicting a family living in small town Pennsylvania. Morris is a fairly non-magical guy with lots of expertise in the supernatural, so after a quick investigation he figures out that a powerful practitioner of black magic (the titular woman) is trying to kill the family. Realizing he is out of his league magically, he calls upon his friend, Libby Chastain, who happens to be a powerful practitioner of white magic. With Morris' help, she sets up some temporary protective wards, and then the two of them set out on a cross-country journey to identify the bad witch and stop her.
Morris and Chastian tracking down their opponent is the main storyline, but an almost completely unrelated storyline is formed when a practitioner of evil magic from southern Africa arrives in the U.S. on a commission to create a powerful, evil magical artifact from the hearts of innocent children. An African-American FBI agent and a visiting South African agent (from their version of the X-Files) spend about half the book chasing down the serial killer of small children. The FBI agent plays the role of Scully, slowly being awakened to the supernatural while he tries to track down the killer.
Mild spoiler alert:
The two storylines almost, but not quite come together, when it is revealed (early on) that the evil African magician is working for the black witch who is tormenting the Pennsylvania family for personal reasons unrelated to her desire to obtain the evil magical artifact.
I liked this book, even though there are some serious flaws in it.
1) The main bad guy, the evil witch, is supposed to be a powerful descendant of a long line of powerful, evil witches. She has a long term plan to become a Major Player in the supernatural underworld, but risks it all in order to carry out a 3 century old family vendetta (against the people who hire Quincey Morris). This results in Quincey Morris being brought into the picture and ends up ruining her plans. The bad guys behave systematically stupid, which allows the good guys to catch them.
2) The two storylines (Morris-Chastain and the child serial killer) don't quite come together in a satisfactory way. Either one by itself would have made a good novel, but to me they don't quite fit right together.
What I liked: Well, I liked all the good-guy characters. I am very fond of repurposing, or building upon pieces of classic novels, so the whole idea of Quincey Morris was the reason I bought the book. I also liked the two law enforcement agents of the second storyline. Their characters worked well together, and I hope Gustainis considers writing a book about their adventures.
The world building seems very standard urban-fantasy, though without a strong romantic component. What I liked very much was that Quincey Morris is very much a non-supernatural actor, who happens to have a lot of knowledge about the supernatural world. Gustainis is very clever in having Morris adapt modern technology to the myths of the various supernatural beings Morris encounters.
Fun book, could have been better, will probably get the next book in the series, Evil Ways, eventually. I'd probably have it already if these books were sold in an e-book format that my Kindle can handle.
Next: The Detective Inspector Chen novels by Liz Williams.
What Other People Have to Say about Black Magic Woman:
A review at the Love Vampires Site.
Flynn Gallagher's review at the Internet Review of Science Fiction
Jackie at Literary Escapism
A review at The Dark Phantom Review