Dime Store Magic
(Orbit, £6.99, 462 pages, paperback, published February 2004;
ISBN 1-84149-3323-6 .)
Dime Store Magic is Kelley Armstrong's third book, and the first
not to feature Elena, the world's only female werewolf. Elena plays
bit part in this novel (a couple of phone calls), but instead DSM
focuses on a character first introduced in Stolen, Armstrong's
second book. This is Paige Winterbourne, a 23-year-old witch and leader
of the witches' organisation, the Coven, in the USA.
Dime Store Magic is also the first of Armstrong's books to be
labelled 'in the Women of the Otherworld series'. Seeing this, I was
prepared for disappointment. Series too often become routine, with cardboard
characters and no genuine development. However, DSM is a good,
entertaining read, and Armstrong's fourth book, Industrial Magic,
is excellent. So in this case, it looks as if the books are going from
strength to strength, regardless of the dreaded 'series' label.
In style and partly in content, Armstrong's books are vaguely reminiscent
of Laurel Hamilton's 'Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter (trademark)' series.
(The 'Women of the Otherworld' label has not yet been trademarked, but
it might not be long in coming.) There is a bright, modern, assertive
young female protagonist, a world with a wide range of supernatural
characters, and fair helpings of sex, violence and humour.
This is a mix which works. DSM is a fun, well-paced and easy-to-read
occult thriller, packed with plenty of eventful action, and even better,
it actually has a decent and engaging plot.
Now by witch, Armstrong does not mean New Age Wiccan types. Wiccans
make an appearance part-way through the book, and thoroughly alarm Paige
when a group of them appear naked -- no, sorry, for them it's 'sky-clad'
-- in her back garden. Having begun a cleansing ceremony, they invite
Paige to "unburden yourself of your earthly vestments and join us ...
", an offer she is happy to refuse.
No, Paige's witchcraft is hereditary, hard work, and hidden. To all
outward appearances, she is a perfectly ordinary young woman, trying
to forge a career, get on with her neighbours, and hope for a boyfriend.
But in Armstrong's world, there are several supernatural races living,
in secret, side by side with humans. As well as werewolves and vampires,
there are hereditary witches, all female, and their hereditary enemies,
Aided and abetted by an evil half-demon, a powerful sorcerer is trying
to gain custody of Paige's teenage ward, Savannah. This young girl promises
to have even greater witchly powers than Paige, so is a prize for any
supernatural organisation, let alone a sorcerous Cabal which focuses
on making money and gaining more power.
So Paige faces a custody battle in both the human and the supernatural
worlds. In her struggle against these powerful enemies, Paige assumes
she can rely on the members of her Coven. However, the Coven has become
a conservative, elderly and weak organisation, whose main aim is to
avoid publicity and trouble. Instead, Paige slowly begins to realise
that her greatest ally might turn out to be a renegade sorcerer-lawyer!
During the course of the book Paige has to overturn several of her
assumptions about the supernatural world she partly lives in. She develops
and matures as a person, and therefore becomes a more engaging character.
And, as she becomes more complex, so too does the world Armstrong describes.
Although it is overall fast-paced and well written, Dime Store Magic
does suffer occasionally from a fairly common flaw of clunky, pedestrian,
over-writing. For example: "It felt good to get it off my chest, to
talk to someone who'd understand. She offered to come and help, and
I can't describe how good it felt to hear that. Unfortunately, I had
to refuse. Elena understood, but ... should I change my mind, I only
needed to call. I don't think she knew how much I appreciated that."
Not a major problem, if this sort of thing is my only criticism.
There seems to be plenty of scope for further stories in this series.
I hope so, and can certainly recommend them.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: