Genre: Adult Horror
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Release date: May 7 2013
Source: e-book from Author
In a word: delightfully gruesome, with lots of small-town quirkiness, an evil magician you will hate, and heroic everyday characters you will love.
I was initially drawn to Black Magic by its cover, which I think is so well done, especially for a small publisher. The eerie glimpse into the magic store’s windows and the brewing storm overhead promise lots of horrific entertainment. And I’m happy to say the cover perfectly captures the mood of this story. Black Magic was a well-written and perfectly paced book that will appeal to fans of Stephen King. Russell James does not shy away from gory scenes, so if you have a weak stomach, this might not be the book for you. But like King, he makes his story just as much about the characters as the horror, and he throws in some humor to lighten the mood.
The story takes place in the small Florida town of Citrus Glade, a dying community on the edge of the Everglades whose Apex Sugar Mill shut its doors years ago. A newcomer named Lyle Miller has just decided to set up shop, and some of the residents of Citrus Glade think this might be just what the town needs to boost its economy. But Lyle is not who he seems. In fact, he is a 2000-year-old sorcerer who has chosen the town as the site of his next “Grand Adventure,” and because he is an evil sorcerer, that adventure involves destroying the town of Citrus Glade and everyone in it.
But in order to fuel his magic, Lyle needs the help of the residents of Citrus Glade to add juice to his powers. He selects those whose “whapna,” or essence, leans towards the dark side, including four boys who call themselves “The Outsiders,” a nasty old man named Shane who terrorizes the local retirement home, and a loser named Vicente whose used car business is a front for a drug smuggling operation. With a few dazzling tricks to entice the boys and a bit of black magic to rope in Vicente and Shane, Lyle is set to topple what remains of this pitiful town.
But a handful of heroes catch on to Lyle’s tricks and they will do anything to stop him. Andy Patterson, who is the last employee of the Department of Public Works, his mother Dolly who is slowly losing her battle with Alzheimer’s, and a young biologist named Autumn who has come to Citrus Glade to study the Everglades are a few of the characters who are ready to rid the town of Lyle and his black magic for good.
James’ real talent is getting to the heart of small town life: its disappointments, economic failings and the despair that comes with families on the brink of collapse due to climate change and other factors. The Arroyo family owns and works an orange grove, but Felix Arroyo’s orange trees haven’t been doing very well. Until Lyle comes to town, though. His powers infuse Felix’s orange trees with enough magic to produce beautiful fruit overnight, giving the family a bit of hope, at least until things start going horribly wrong.
The author does a great job of portraying small town characters, and two of my favorites were Andy and his elderly mother Dolly. Andy is the good son who loves his mother and weathers her many memory lapses, as painful as they are. And James has given Andy an intriguing back-story: he’s an Army vet who had a life-changing experience in Afghanistan, an experience that colors his daily life in Citrus Grove. Dolly’s character takes a wonderful turn when the side effects of Lyle’s magic start to not only improve her memory, but her mobility as well. Before long, Dolly’s mind is as sharp as a tack, and along with her friend Walking Bear, a wonderful character who fancies himself a Native American and has an armadillo as a spirit guide, she sets out to stop Lyle’s magic before it can destroy the town.
Even the peripheral characters are well drawn, like Juliana, Vicente’s drug addicted girlfriend who can’t seem to tear herself away from the abusive Vicente, or his piles of cocaine, for that matter. A couple of characters border on the cliché, like the Reverend Rusty Wright who immediately knows that Lyle is “the work of Satan” and sets out to find proof of his evil deeds. But for the most part I enjoyed all of James’ portrayals of ordinary folk who are just trying to survive in a dying town.
The author uses the magician’s bag of tricks to his advantage, taking ordinary props like the magician’s hat and wand and imbuing them with wicked and evil magic. He also infuses wry humor into the story with his tricks. Paco (one of the Outsiders) is given a wand that makes things disappear, and the first thing he wants to get rid of is his Ritalin (he has ADHD)! And Barry, another of the four boys, gets a special top hat from Lyle, a hat that can call forth any small animal. It’s a dream come true for a boy whose parents don’t allow pets in the house, until the magic turns nasty and something monstrous emerges. But watch out: a couple of standard magician’s tricks are given a diabolical treatment, and one of the most creatively horrific scenes I’ve ever read involves poor Reverend Rusty when he tries to break into the Magic Shop.
Aside from a couple of awkward sentences that could have used a bit more editing, the writing is polished and the pace will keep you turning pages. James wraps things up with a bang but includes some poignant moments that give this story emotional depth. For horror aficionados, Black Magic is a treat, not a trick, and is highly recommended.