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Wild, Dark Times by Austin Case

Wild, Dark Times by Austin Case
3.5
Book Name: Wild, Dark Times
Author: Austin Case
Publisher(s): Liminal Books
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy / Horror
Release Date: July 22, 2019

The Setup

Elizabeth Megalos is an ordinary bank teller who expects to live an ordinary life. Her illusions are shattered when one of her friends gets possessed by an evil entity and tries to kill her. Elizabeth is rescued by Eddy, a powerful but pervy magician, and recruited into a band of modern mystics who are trying to save the world from a deranged god.

My Thoughts

The first thing I noticed about this book is it has a great title! And it’s a fitting one. The protagonists travel the world, perform mystical ceremonies, take lots of drugs, party, eat delicious food, create art, and perform rock concerts. It’s a very bohemian way to save the world. There’s also no shortage of unusual monsters and horrible deaths along the way. Case knows his world mythology and trots out a very impressive bestiary of creatures from folklore to torment his protagonists.

The story is heavily rooted in actual magical traditions, both ancient and modern. It particularly focuses on Gnostic Christianity, a mystical tradition which states that, while there is a benevolent creator God, there is another, far crueller, being called the Demiurge which seeks to rule over creation as a God. (That’s a massive oversimplification but this isn’t an essay on theology.) If you’re a fan of Unknown Armies (a role-playing game), then this book will be right up your street—magic draws on existing beliefs and anything can be a source of power, from an ancient burial ground to the ghost of Elvis.

Wild, Dark Times also takes in Voudoun, Indian mysticism and the beliefs of some Native American Peoples. Case speaks with authority about modern magical practices and that makes for an intriguing read.

Eddy is actually our first viewpoint character and I found him repugnant, he leers at Elizabeth through her window while commenting to himself that she could stand to lose a little weight. Fortunately, we spend most of the book in Elizabeth’s head from that point on, with occasional side-trips to see how the villain is getting on. And an introduction to a couple of other characters who work alongside Eddy.

I liked the rest of Eddy’s crew, a pair of transcendental rock-stars and an artist who draws mystical power from his collection of comics and superhero memorabilia. (Particularly fun for anyone who enjoyed Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood.) Veer and Frater, the rock stars, particularly caught my imagination with their blend of mysticism, altered states of consciousness and gigs that are mass rituals.

The book is an easy read and flows well. Unlike most urban fantasy it’s not written in first person but it still has that modern, casual way of speaking. Each viewpoint character has their own unique voice. I did notice quite a lot of awkward or redundant phrasing though. For example. Instead of eating from a menu, the characters have various items, “on their respective gustatory agendas.” There’s also a reliance on stock phrases, particularly for the villain.

Where Case’s writing really comes into its own is in his descriptions of strange visions and drug-fuelled trances.

“Her voice flowing out to the audience in rivulets of melody.”

“Radiant eye of all, of God, of Truth, and Beauty. Filigree mysticisms revealing diaphanous ephemerals as illusions.”

One early scene read like noir-themed Beatnik poetry:

“Hidden enigma startin’ concealed a congealed form from within the outskirts of her skirt and shirt.”

A last note on the writing style. One female character uses the term—“really fluffs my muffin” to describe the types of magic she likes. So, that’s a thing that happened.

Although there’s quite a few action scenes in, Case doesn’t dwell on them for long. A quick burst of casual horror and then onto the next story beat. These scenes are usually told from Elizabeth’s point of view and seem to fit with her character, she’s not an action hero and doesn’t have the time or inclination to think in detail about what’s going on around her. (Although she does notice that another character has been shot in the left pectoral muscle at one point, through his coat, which doesn’t feel like the kind of detail that a non-medical person would pick up on.)

Less effective is a brief sex scene between two seemingly incompatible characters that comes out of nowhere.

The finale reveals an interesting twist I hadn’t expected and there’s a good few pages afterwards explaining what happens in the aftermath, which I always appreciate.

Conclusion

Wild, Dark Times is bold and original in principle, if not always in execution.

If you’re interested in the history of magical practices and folklore or in modern theories that attempt to make sense of them, then I’d recommend this book. Also, if you like urban fantasy but want a change from lovesick werewolves and supernatural detectives. However, if you can only bring yourself to read the finest and most literary of prose, then you may struggle with this book.

Disclaimer: I was offered, and accepted, a free digital review copy of this book.

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