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Industrial Magic

by Kelley Armstrong

(Orbit, £6.99, 528 pages, paperback, published September 2004, ISBN 1841493406.)

Review by Meredith

cover scanThis is a very good, strong, occult thriller, and a fun read. So, it is a pity I can't recommend that readers new to Kelley Armstrong start here.

The fourth in Armstrong's 'Women of the Otherworld' series, this is pretty much a sequel to her third book, Dime Store Magic. And, in order to get the most out of Industrial Magic, the reader should ideally have read the earlier books in the series. Not only are there many nuances of behaviour and relationships which would otherwise be meaningless, but also there are several references to events in the past.

Although anyone with an ounce of intelligence would be able to follow the story even if they haven't read the other books, it is just much richer and more entertaining if you know the back history.

Industrial Magic sees the heroes of Dime Store Magic try to come to terms with what happened in that book. Their intimate relationship is new and unusual -- Paige is a hereditary witch and Lucas is a hereditary sorcerer, and in their world, those two supernatural races are usually bitter enemies. Paige is now homeless; Lucas is moneyless. And, they are also doing their best to bring up a teenage foster daughter who seems likely to turn out to be an extremely powerful witch.

The last thing the couple needs is more emotional stress, which is exactly what Lucas's sorcerer father gives them when he tries to intrude into their lives. However, someone is killing teenage children of dad's employees, and Paige and Lucas are the ideal people to track down the murderer. Can they cope with the job if it means working alongside Lucas's family?

Armstrong's world contains several races of supernaturals, living amongst the far more numerous humans but keeping their powers and existence secret. Her previous books have focussed on werewolves and witches, while introducing several other species, such as half-demons, vampires and shamans. In this book there is a welcome return for some of the werewolf characters from the earlier books. Armstrong also introduces even more supernatural species, and explores some, such as vampires, in greater depth.

It's almost, but not quite, too many. At one point I feared Armstrong was getting carried away by the possibilities, as so many fantasy writers do. However, she does just manage to keep control over her imagination. So, the fairly wide cast of characters develops into individuals, instead of simply being stock fantasy figures. Far from being a tribe, the vampires, for example, all have different personalities. In a very entertaining episode, we are introduced to the horrors which one vampire thinks need to be kept firmly behind a locked door in a gothic-style mansion.

I like the way the characters are allowed emotional development even though this is, essentially, a supernatural thriller. And there are plenty of thrills, along with good pacing and a range of settings for the various adventures.

There's only one episode which jars. Lucas is shot and in order to save him, Paige has to enter a far more mystical and 'spiritual' state than usual. It is all to do with the Afterlife, and like so many fantasy and occult books, I have no problems reading about vampires or magicians, but don't find concepts of heaven, hell or limbo convincing at all. This concept of 'Afterlife' is actually quite important for the plot since it introduces a crucial development, but to me, the whole episode doesn't ring as true as when Armstrong is developing the action. Incidentally, this episode provides the basis for the next book in the series!

Armstrong is a modern-day writer. When Paige is attacked by a possible murderer and held hostage, she quite naturally goes to pieces. Then, she pulls herself together, wonders why she is waiting helplessly for her boyfriend to rescue her, and unleashes some powerful spells upon her captor.

I like this series. The books are entertaining and enjoyable, and Armstrong tells a good tale.

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