December 2004

Lara Apps

fiction

Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

With Industrial Magic, her fourth novel, Canadian author Kelley Armstrong continues to develop and expand the supernatural playground of her Otherworld series. For those unfamiliar with the series, it began with Bitten, an intense, original and erotic supernatural thriller. Armstrong introduced Elena Michaels, the conflicted werewolf narrator coming to terms with being a "monster." Elena also narrates Stolen, in which Armstrong widens the scope of her fictional world with a complex plot involving the kidnapping and imprisonment of supernatural beings such as half-demons, witches, and vampires. In the third novel, Dime Store Magic, Armstrong took the brave step of switching narrative voices from the popular Elena to Paige Winterbourne, the young, brash witch who makes her first appearance as a relatively minor character in Stolen. Dime Store Magic focuses on an attempt by a sorcerers’ cabal to take custody of the orphaned and extremely powerful teenaged witch, Savannah, Paige’s guardian. Less violent and sexually graphic than Bitten and Stolen, Dime Store Magic retained the fast pacing and sensuality of the first two novels while establishing Paige as a distinct voice within the series.

Industrial Magic is the sequel to Dime Store Magic. It begins with Paige, Savannah, and Paige’s lover Lucas trying to establish new lives after the upheaval of the previous months. Lucas, a sorcerer-lawyer, wants to maintain his independence from his family’s rich, powerful, and morally suspect cabal; Paige is attempting to start a new coven, run her web design business, and work up to jogging two miles. Their quiet plans are derailed when Lucas’s father contacts Paige with the news that an unknown killer is targeting the children of cabal employees. Paige and Lucas resist, but cannot avoid being drawn into the hunt for the killer.

The first three novels felt quite insular, as there were a limited number of characters and most of the action took place in one or two settings. Industrial Magic, in contrast, has a much broader cast of characters and a wider playing field. Series fans will appreciate the return of the werewolves, along with one or two less endearing characters from Stolen. The new characters are well drawn, from Lucas’s father Benicio to the hard-drinking necromancer and stage psychic Jaime Vegas. The action covers both coasts of the US, with events set in Portland, San Francisco, and Miami. There is also a comical stop in New Orleans, where we encounter a group of Lestat-wannabe vampires in a sly homage to Anne Rice.

One of Armstrong’s strengths is the creation of plausible characters, which is a real bonus in a series based on the premise that there are supernatural creatures walking and working beside us in our contemporary world. Her werewolves, witches, sorcerers, et al. are convincing as people, not just as monsters or super-humans; despite their powers, they have relationship problems, personal insecurities, and family conflicts. Yet there is nothing maudlin about these books. A dry sense of humor runs through all of them and is particularly pronounced in Industrial Magic. The female characters are refreshingly strong without becoming bitchy caricatures, and while some of the male characters are stereotypically testosterone-driven (as seen through Paige’s eyes, at least), most are more balanced than that. Armstrong includes a healthy dose of sex and romance as well, without going overboard à la Laurell K. Hamilton. There is a recurring motif of gender conflict in the series, but it is muted in this novel, taking a back seat to the theme of family relationships. None of the supernaturals, it seems, has anything like a normal family life, and those that came closest at one point -- Paige and Savannah -- are now orphans.

Industrial Magic is a page-turner and is very hard to put down. Having said that, one gets the feeling that Armstrong is pushing the envelope with respect to how much her first-person narrative structure can handle. This is the most complicated plotline of the series so far, and some of the scenes -- fun as they are -- feel more like set-ups for the next novel than truly necessary elements of this one. However, this is only a minor criticism of an otherwise excellent read.

Readers new to the series should, at a minimum, read Dime Store Magic first; ideally, read all three of the other novels in order to get the most out of Industrial Magic. They are addictive, so be forewarned. Luckily, book five is on its way. According to Armstrong’s excellent web site, Haunted will be told by a new narrator, the dead witch Eve.

Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong
Seal Books
ISBN 0770429637
528 pages