Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane
Edited by Jonathan Oliver
Review by Mario Guslandi
Solaris Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781781080542
Date: 06 November 2012 List Price $9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
After editing the excellent The End of the Line: An Anthology of Underground Horror and the outstanding House of Fear: An Anthology of Haunted House Stories , Jonathan Oliver returns with a new anthology devoted to magic. A tricky task, because, when dealing with "the esoteric and arcane", as mentioned in the subtitle of the book, there's always the possibility to end up with implausible stories which severely challenge the reader's ability to suspend his/her disbelief.
Fortunately, most of the sixteen stories included manage to avoid that pitfall and, although (as with any anthology) not everything in the book pleased this reviewer, a good number of the tales are really worth mentioning. The delightful "The Wrong Fairy" by Audrey Niffenegger portrays Conan Doyle's father -- a well known alcoholic -- as an asylum inmate in touch with a paranormal, magical world.
In "Domestic Magic", Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem convincingly demonstrate how difficult it is to have an unreliable witch as a mother. Meanwhile in "First and Last and Always" Thana Niveau effectively shows how love spells can work beyond one's expectations, with disastrous results.
Dan Abnett contributes "Party Tricks", an enjoyable mix of magic and politics, and Gemma Files provides "Nanny Grey", a bizarre but enticing tale of perverse magic, pervaded with eroticism and wonder.
"The Baby" is yet another of Christopher Fowler's great, dark stories, featuring a young girl trying to deal with an unwanted pregnancy in a rather unconventional way.
"The Art of Escapology" by Alison Littlewood is an excellent tale with a melancholy undercurrent where magic disrupts a man's life by turning him in the ghost of a famous magician.
To me the very best stories in the book are Robert Shearman's "Dumb Lucy", a beautiful, poignant tale probing the many aspects of magic (its power, its loneliness, and its sad but exciting nature) and Will Hill's "Shuffle", an extraordinary horrific piece graced by a terrific storytelling, set in the world of gambling.
A magic anthology indeed.