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Dark Magic by James Swain
Cover Artist: Christine Duvall and Charles Ruff
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765329943
Date: 22 May 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Peter Warlock is a David Copperfield-like magician; when he and his psychic friends meet for their monthly sťance, he experiences a vision of thousands of people mysteriously falling dead in Times Square. He has less than four days to prevent this catastrophe. Meanwhile, Jeremy Wolfe, a savage hit man, has been contracted to assassinate Peter and his friends. As doomsday draws closer, Peter realizes his supernatural powers are growing stronger, he learns his parents belonged to an evil organization known as the Order of Astrum, and he discovers that he is being hunted by three evil warlocks who practice dark magic.

Despite its rushed ending and Peter's silly conversations with ghosts and spirits, James Swain's Dark Magic is a fun read. The novel immediately begins with Peter's gruesome vision of mass casualties in Times Square. Soon afterwards, one of his psychic friends is brutally murdered. A lover of high body count slasher films, I felt that all of Peter's friends would soon follow similar demises. However, the other psychics proved too difficult for Wolfe to kill. Using their witchcraft against him, they often give Wolfe the appearance of a bumbling, inept idiot. While the novel has plenty of twists and surprises, it is Peter's love for his friends that forces the reader to become emotionally attached to them. One can't help but root for them to destroy Wolfe and the evil Order of Astrum.

During the course of the novel, the reader is given a grand tour of Manhattan. My favorite locale is the historical Dakota which overlooks Central Park. The Dakota served as the setting for one of the most influential horror films ever made, Rosemary's Baby, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse. Rosemary moves into the Bramford and discovers that her neighbors belong to a coven of witches. Unfortunately, she can't find anyone to believe her. How ironic that two characters in Dark Magic, Milly Adams and her niece Holly, live in the Dakota and practice witchcraft. It is their spells, performed in a style that is a combination of Harry Potter and Bewitched, that often thwart Wolfe's diabolical plans to commit murder.

Peter Warlock (his real name is Peter Warren) is an orphan; when he was a child, his parents were murdered, ala Batman. Emotionally scarred, he easily accepts strangers as members of his "family", with disastrous consequences. It would also explain his obsession with optical illusions because reality can sometimes by very uncontrollable and painful. Peter's assistant and live-in girlfriend Liza is often disgusted by the secrets he hides from her. They experience an on-again, off-again relationship that was often frustrating for me. Meanwhile, Poor Peter must struggle to keep his psychic gift under wraps or the FBI will whisk him away to a secret lab in Virginia like they did his friend Hector "Nemo" Rodriguez.

Heavily steeped in the occult, James Swain's Dark Magic is very appropriate for fans of supernatural horror and fantasy. It contains everything from Astral projections to Zombies. There is enough violence and gruesomeness to satisfy gorehounds like myself. Though most of Peter's psychic friends escape unharmed, numerous innocent bystanders are killed by Wolfe and the Order of Astrum.

The pacing was fast but somewhat hindered by Peter's silly conversations with ghosts. Also, the ending was rather rushed and anticlimactic. Nevertheless, I developed a liking for Peter and his strange friends and would like to read more about them in a sequel. The classic, Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows and novels such as Dark Magic have taught us that death is never the end. Evilness lives again and again. Perhaps this will also hold true with the Order of Astrum and the dark magic that it practices.

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