Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: Ten Little Wizards

Ten Little Wizards
Michael Kurland
Fantasy, mystery

Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series is one of the minor classics of Silver Age science fiction/fantasy. Darcy solves crimes in an alternative universe where magic not only works, but has been put on a scientific basis. Darcy's sidekick Sean O Lochlainn is a forensic sorcerer, but the stories themselves are all fair-play whodunits. (If you see a parallel to these guys, you're not alone.)

After Garrett's death, Michael Kurland wrote two pastiche follow-up novels: A Study in Sorcery and Ten Little Wizards. I'd bought and read the first many years ago, but I'd never run across the second. Speaking of magic, though--e-books to the rescue!

I wish I could say, after all that, that Ten Little Wizards is brilliant. It's ... serviceable. Garrett didn't have a terribly distinctive writing style, so there's nothing to complain about on that score. Kurland's description of the setting is reasonably close to Garrett's, but in this one--more than in A Study in Sorcery--it's a trifle unfocused, as if Kurland had a bunch of bits he wanted to throw in but didn't know quite how they all went together. The puzzle is somewhat weak; the murderer is unmasked kind of by accident, and the unmasking isn't very satisfactory.

Also, the magic is not credible. Garrett was always careful to give a scientific-sounding explanation whenever Master Sean did his tricks, using (for example) the "Law of Sympathy" and the "Law of Contagion" noted in our world by James Frazer in his book The Golden Bough. There are a couple of bits in Ten Little Wizards that just don't fit the classic mold. It may sound odd to the uninitiated to start complaining "Hey, magic can't do that!", but if nothing else it's a tribute to Garrett's original conception.

I enjoyed reading the book. I'm glad to have finally completed the series. Still, this is more a book for dedicated fans of the original than for general readers.

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