If I’m being honest–and I am, because I have yet to write my dishonest review--this is not my type of book. And if I’m being very honest–and I am, because I don’t want to make the mistake of reading this again–this is only an okay book, a book serviceable for people who enjoy the genre, and who aren’t feeling picky about writing or characterization.
Esther is working as a chorus girl and understudy in a magic-themed Broadway production when the leading lady disappears in the middle of a magic trick. The next day, she receives a note warning her not to take the woman’s place. She immediately shares that note with the hunky police officer who interviewed the cast. Right before she is about to go on for the same act, an elderly wizard named Max materializes in her dressing room, warning her not to do the trick. They team up to investigate a string of disappearances involving people who have actually disappeared doing the same illusion so Esther can go back to the show.
A decent enough premise, but lacking in execution. Resnick began as a romance writer, and had twelve titles published under the name Laura Leone before this book went to its first printing, and the author’s romance background is clear. After publication, it eventually went out of print, rights reverted to Resnick and she ended up updating and re-releasing with DAW, publisher of the rest of the series. Honestly, it should have been reworked further. The lack of fantasy experience is apparent as the mystical elements start to develop and the story bogs down in a good twenty pages of world-building explano-babble that includes the stereotypical disbelief reaction. The mystery is lacking as well, and seems to mostly consist of looking in the library and a web search. Why Esther needs to be involved at all is a puzzle, as Max seems to be the only one with magical skills. She claims she has organizing skills, but most of the time she’s reacting with one hare-brained idea after another, so I find that hard to believe.
There is some cute humor:
“He swallowed and asked, ‘Who are you, anyhow? CIA? FBI? National Security Agency? NASA?’
The lad’s imagination was spinning out of control. ‘I’m with Equity,’ I said.
‘The actors’ union?’ His voice broke.
Everyone’s afraid of Equity.”
“A respectable-looking middle-aged couple got into the elevator with us. ‘Twelve please,’ the man said.
I pressed the button.
‘Costume party?’ the woman asked me.
‘Funeral,’ I said.
We rode to the ninth floor in silence.”
But more often for me, the humor went to the over-the-top place that ended up causing characterization problems. Resnick doesn’t have the writing chops to pull off the charm of a Grant-Hepburn comedy. Picture Jim Carrey doing romance in his screwball comedies: these are broad characters with slapstick humor and situations set up for laugh value over logic. It’s actually a little hard to get to know Esther as she careens from one extreme reaction to another. For instance, the day Esther receives the warning note, she dressed in her costume of gold robes and elaborate headdress before going to work (!?). She then storms down to the police station, still in her outrageous costume, so the Lieutenant will have a chance to ogle her and develop romantic tension. Supporting characters are on the cartoon side of the equation as well, and when Esther meets other local magicians who had assistants disappear–including drag queen performers and a condom-selling Texan–it loses any pretense at subtlety.
Sadly for urban fantasy fans, the world-building here isn’t anything impressive. Max is a dopey magician who has lived hundreds of years, frequently has malapropisms because he doesn’t understand the local language, and is nauseated by riding in cars (in other words, he’s the polar opposite of Atticus the druid). There’s mention of a council-type heirarchy, alchemy and magical books, but magical elements play a tertiary role until the end. The issue of magic in an unmagical world isn’t particularly addressed, except that the police disbelieve it as an explanation (and why you can tell the police there is magic but not prove it to them is unclear).
Finally, if I’m being totally honest, it deserves minus 42 stars for the final confrontation with the villain.
The villain is looking for a virgin to sacrifice, only he’s running into problems because NYC doesn’t have any virgins (har-har). His comeuppance occurs when a demon rapes him instead of the disappeared women. Resnick then has the audacity to make a joke about the villain walking painfully. This is not an excusable scene–the simple exercise of gender reversal should make it apparent–and is all the more unacceptable because Resnick apparently thinks that we can excuse it because happens to a man. I was completely unsurprised when she complains that the book “sank like a stone” and she agents were “negative about my writing.” (link)
You want clever romantic comedy? Check out To Say Nothing of the Dog or Bellwether by Connie Willis.