July 13, 2010


A Magiclysm Novel
by S.F. Winser
249 pages, Lulu.com

Review by Melissa Conway

I’m allergic to math. In school, while I struggled to memorize even basic algebraic equations, my older brother got 800 out of 800 on his Math SAT’s, a clear indication he’d sucked all the math genes out of the pool before I was even conceived. I never even heard of ‘Principia Mathematica,’ a three-volume work, according to Wikipedia, by some early twentieth-century egg-heads on the foundations of mathematics. It wasn’t until I Googled Winser’s book to locate it for purchase and Google gently asked me if I meant “Mathematica’ instead of ‘Mathemagica’ that I realized his title had any significance outside of his imagination. The Wikipedia article on MATHica has all sorts of words that make my head hurt: axioms, paradoxes and theorems, oh ouch! Thank goodness MAGICa is eminently more readable.

Earth’s ecology has changed drastically, and humans are no longer at the top of the food chain. Vampires, Werewolves, Hydras and Tumblepigs are only a few of earth’s new denizens. When the Magiclysm occurred, our world was suddenly inundated with magical creatures who arrived dazed and confused, with patchy memories of their previous lives.

Colws (pronounced Kh’loose) the Halfling and Retraive the Elf come from another place or places, but neither can recall exactly where. Retraive knows he was an apprentice mage, knows a lot about magic in fact, but can’t quite get a handle on how to properly perform the spells. His attempts usually produce results, but they aren’t always what he intended. He and Colws, who is part diminutive MacGyver, part stand-up comic, are a team—the magical consulting team of Colws and Retraive (Any time. Any problem. Any species.)

A Sydney Department of Defense Registered Mage has been murdered. Or has he? This particular mage was a powerful and hard-to-kill hydra, and our token human, Detective Willis, has no choice but to hire Colws and Retraive to sort the matter out. Tough and humorless Willis is the perfect foil for the pair’s antics, so she struggles to keep her opinions to herself lest the two high-spirited consultants attempt to “weird her into submission.”

The decapitated hydra should have grown “two more very annoyed heads,” but didn’t, which can only mean one thing: someone very powerful took him out. Colws and Retraive set out to solve the murder, accompanied by Colws’ ex-girlfriend, a debutante vampire-slayer, and his pet Baku, a combination elephant/tiger who eats negative psychic energy to enable it to become invisible.

The solving of the crime takes a backseat when the not-quite-dead headless hydra/mage casts a spell that blows his hospital ward to smithereens. Fearful that the dangerous victim now headed out into the city will go on a werewolf-bite-induced rampage, Colws and Retraive follow his trail. Along the way they encounter a society of philosophical werewolves, the hard-to-reason-with Minotaur Mafia and an especially vicious vampire fairy, among other fascinating and fantastical creatures.

And Retraive doesn’t know why the hydra sent him a copy of his manuscript, ‘Principia Mathemagica,’ a brilliant treatise revealing the scientific basis of all magic, but a book like that just might get someone killed.

As Colws, with his tendency to swear profusely and creatively would say, this was a Fey-king good book, packed with myriad clever turns-of-phrase. It’s not easy to make me laugh, but I chortled out loud several times.

The monsters are simultaneously frightening and amusing—and ultimately defeated by our heroes’ knowledgeable assessment of their weaknesses:

“The skeletal warrior collapsed with a crunching rattle that set off the same aural response as dry finger-bones down a blackboard.

‘Hmmm…’ said Colws. ‘Dangerous. Fast growing. But not aware of modern museum skeleton-wiring techniques.’”

Even the direst of circumstances cannot dampen Colws and Retraive’s enthusiasm for banter. Quips are served, lobbed and smashed:

‘A normal-sized eye patch might work for you, but I’d need one
designed for a giant.’

‘A giant? A gnome’s eye patch is all you’d need!’

‘A gnome? A Leviathan’s eye patch wouldn’t cover this!’

‘A Leviathan? A pixie’s eye patch would be too big!’

‘A pixie? The World Serpent’s eye patch would barely meet
modesty’s needs!’

The puns and plays-on-words within these pages are non-stop (“Don’t look a gift gorgon in the face”) as are the jokes, many of which will appeal to the juvenile in all of us (“And then the smell hit. The rankness worse than a space-station crew on a high-carbohydrate diet.”).

Mathemagica is a funny, rollicking free-for-all and S.F. Winser is a unique new voice destined to become a major fantasy author.

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