“The Magicians” introduced us to Quentin Coldwater, a young American whose heart belongs in a Narnia-like world of juvenile fantasy novels called Fillory. When Quentin gets into an exclusive school called Brakebills (think: a college-level Hogwarts in upstate New York), he learns the dangerous art magic, then joins several of his buddies on a journey that takes them to the very real world of Fillory. The chapters of “The Magician King” alternate between two storylines.
Even though Samhain is not pronounced anything like how it looks, somehow young Samhain Corvus LaCroix has picked up the nickname Sam, along with a mediocre career path based on dropping out of college and working at a burger joint. He shares a one-bedroom apartment with his buddies Ramon and Frank (who sleep on the couch and the living room floor, respectively), and has zero love-life in spite of working with a hot number named Brooke and living next door to a Betty White type who always encourages him to walk on the wild side. Nevertheless, Sam only begins to suss out what the wild side is when an irate customer picks him up by his neck and demands to know where he gets off being an unregistered necromancer.
In Book 2 of the “Parasol Protectorate,” a racy supernatural riff on Victorian steampunk, something has taken the fangs out of London’s werewolves and vampires. No worries! Lady Maccon (formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti) is on the case. In her role as the preternatural adviser to Her Majesty’s Shadow Council—a role she earned by being the only soulless, supernatural-powers-neutralizing, respectable married lady in town—she gate-crashes a reunion between her werewolf husband and his former pack, somewhere in the southern Scottish Highlands.
The author of the “Secret Country” trilogy, when asked to contribute a volume to a series of fairy-tale novelizations, delved instead into a traditional Scots ballad about a girl named Janet who saves her lover from being sacrificed to the powers of Hell by the Queen of Faerie. Transferring the setting to the campus of a small midwestern college in the 1970s, she weaves this eerie storyline into a tale of ghosts, time travelers, young people discovering love and friendship, and the magic of literature, especially English and ancient Greek.
The first of (at present) five books in a series titled “The Parasol Protectorate” introduces a world that combines Victorian-era Steampunk with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It’s a romantic comedy of manners with a broad streak of sensuous eroticism, ripe for an Adult Content Advisory. How ripe? Let me tell you. One day on my way to work, while listening to the audio-book expertly narrated by Emily Grey, I had to turn off my car stereo several blocks short of my destination. No more needs to be said.
In the first six books of the Greywalker series, Seattle-based private eye Harper Blaine uses her unique abilities to interact with such paranormal beings as vampires, ghosts, poltergeists, necromancers, zombies, Chinese demons, Native American monsters, Egyptian gods, and Thames riverspawn. Her cases have taken her underground, into the ivory tower of academics, back in time (sort of), into the wilds of “Twilight” country, and back from the dead. Now, finally, in Book 7 she fulfills the possibility inherent in a series by an author who lives on a boat, in a magical mystery involving the paranormal sea-life of Puget Sound.
I understand exactly why “The Automated Detective” came up in conversation after my friends read my review of “The Manual of Detection”. The mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy and hard-boiled detective fiction really is an up and coming genre. If my review of “Manual” gave the impression that it controls that territory unchallenged, I apologize. On the other hand, “The Manual of Detection” thrives in a world completely different from this book. The one is a straight-faced cocktail of period detective story and surrealist dream sequence; the other, an outrageous spoof of the era of pulp-fiction that scatters its in-jokes, machine-gun style, across both genres indiscriminately.
In the sixth Greywalker novel, Harper Blaine—a private eye who has one foot in the world of magic—is doing a little pre-trial footwork for a Seattle attorney when a ghost hires her to solve his murder. Joined first by her pet ferret Chaos, and later by her techie-spook boyfriend Quinton, she spends this book investigating two cases in the Olympic Peninsula, a region of Washington state that may already seem familiar to fans of the Twilight series. Lack of sparkly vampires notwithstanding, it proves to be a mystery fraught with darkness, danger, encounters with otherworldly beings, and a war between mages over control of the energies welling up from a lake full of ancient ghosts.
The trail of “things to read after Harry Potter” has already led me past many books in which real-world characters get mixed up in the world where fairy tales and children’s stories are real. Off the top of my head, these include the work of authors Chris Colfer, Eoin Colfer, Ian Beck, Frank Beddor, Michael Buckley, Marissa Burt, Michael Ende, Lev Grossman, Tom Holt, Lisa Papademetriou, and Sarah Beth Durst; even if I’ve forgotten twice as many, my point is made. If you’ve been following developments in my book review column, you might appreciate the variety that gives spice to this theme.
In this sequel to “The Ruby in the Smoke”, several years have passed. The year is now 1878, and Sally’s business as a financial consultant is growing, together with her partnership with professional photographer Webster Garland, his dashing nephew Frederick who moonlights as a private detective, and their cockney friend Jim Taylor, who haunts the backstage of London theaters when he isn’t writing melodramas or helping Fred and Sally. It is Jim who brings Fred his latest case: a stage magician named Mackinnon fears for his life after receiving psychic impressions of a murder committed by a powerful industrialist.