MageSign by Alan Baxter
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Horror / Urban Fantasy|
|Release Date:||April 23, 2010 (US) April 10, 2010 (UK)|
Last month I reviewed the excellent RealmShift by Alan Baxter, an author in Australia who we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of in the future, after he recently signed a three-book deal with Harper Voyager (to be released later this year)!
RealmShift left me with a lot to think about. Not only a thrilling adventure, it also threw several theological ideas out into the ether that I connected with on both a literary and personal level. This month I tackled the sequel, MageSign (once again, thank you to the author for the copy) and as with all sequels I was curious to see which direction the author would take, especially now that the genius of the universe was no longer a surprise.
Happily, it’s a worthy sequel that does what all good sequels should do—setting up the same thrilling ride, but more daring and epic in scope, with the action cranked up to 11. However, where previous issues have been smoothed over, a couple of others have stepped in. And again, for me at least, they detract from the overall brilliance.
The Official Blurb
Three years have passed since Isiah’s run in with Samuel Harrigan and the Devil. He has some time on his hands – a perfect opportunity to track down the evil Sorcerer, Harrigan’s mentor. It should have been a simple enough task, but the Sorcerer has more followers than Isiah ever imagined, and a plan bigger than anyone could have dreamed.
With the help of some powerful new friends Isiah desperately tries to track down the Sorcerer and his cult of blood before they manage to change the world forever.
Once again the writing is absolutely solid. The style is still perfect for this type of story, and carries the reader through, at pace, with veritable ease. The dialogue is well written and conveys pretty much everything you need to know about the characters’ moods, and we get more of the witty banter between the most unlikely of companions. It’s all very enjoyable from that point of view.
Whereas last time the plot was a tight affair, this time the author has thrown caution to the wind and gone for EPIC. Especially for the climax which has to be read to be believed. And there are also two clear ‘Holy WHAT NOW?’ twists towards the end that may cause many invested readers to miss their train stop, just so they can keep going to find out what happens.
We’ve got multiple character journeys this time around, and although they take a little time to get cooking, they do end up weaving together well. Plus we get to see far more of the antagonists and their horrific deeds, which—for the most part (see later)—is a great thing and lends far more tension to proceedings than we may have had mainly following the protagonist Isiah again.
That said, Isiah is still a very enjoyable lead to spend time with, especially as this time around he’s without the foretelling guidance of the universal Balance. Which means he has to make it up as he goes, and we’re never quite sure where he’ll take us next.
Two new leading female characters also give the story a great deal of strength. Faith is a lost Australian teenager with untapped power seeking her place in this world, while Petra is the attractive, similarly superhuman foil to Isiah—but a very engaging one that gives us at least a little hope that our main protagonist might find some happiness by the end of this story. Both are wonderful and incredibly powerful characters that add a lot of depth to proceedings.
What Didn’t Work
While there are still far too many smiles and winks and general cheeriness in this book, they are at least far less in number than the last book. However, they still seem very out of place in what is a MUCH darker and more horrifying tale, and once again I think editing them out almost entirely could have really helped.
This is especially true when they appear around, and sometimes even IN, the graphic scenes of murder/sacrifice throughout the book. Of which there are many.
And here is where my main problem with MageSign lies. A large part of the plot revolves around the need for sacrificial victims and this plays out as you might expect, with people taken against their will to meet their maker. Each one is part of a slow build to the pay-off and adds another layer to our growing fear and loathing of the antagonists and the need for Isiah to end them. They aren’t pretty scenes, but they aren’t overcooked and we’ve probably all read worse.
But then we hit two longer, far-more-graphic and disturbing scenes that stand out like dismembered, let alone sore thumbs. Both just too much, too out of place considering the more subtle build up. And neither seemed essential to the plot, rather they were just there to again show us the awfulness of the antagonists—which we had already been shown thanks to the multiple sacrifices they’d done before.
Leaving aside my personal opinion on the inclusion of overly graphic violence in any storytelling medium, I think the rule is that if it’s even borderline gratuitous then it’s best left out. Never more so than in horror, when simply alluding to the horrible things unfolding while holding back on the details can actually improve the sense of dread and revulsion.
So in the end the ‘dark’ in this Dark Fantasy story has been fulfilled…but perhaps too much for me at times. A strange thing to complain about with this genre, granted, and it most certainly will be a subjective thing that will affect all readers differently. Nevertheless, I think more deftly handled in a couple of places and it would have had a less detrimental impact on my otherwise enjoyable overall experience.
Bigger, better, smarter and darker (and then some). MageSign is everything a sequel should be and more. A couple of uncomfortably gratuitous scenes threatened to derail my enjoyment, but I’m glad I continued to the bitter end. And if there are any further adventures of Isiah out there, you can still count me in.