fantasy book reviews Magic Time by Marc Scott Zicree and Barbara HamblyMagic Time by Marc Scott Zicree & Barbara Hambly

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMagic Time is the first book of a fantasy trilogy helmed by Marc Scott Zicree. This book is co-written with Barbara Hambly. Each of the subsequent books in the series is written with a different writer. Magic Time was published in 2001, and it is not aging well.

I had a difficult time getting through Magic Time. It narrowly missed achieving Did Not Finish status. When I did finish it I realized that all this book did was set up Book Two.

Zicree’s book is a post-apocalyptic fantasy in the mode of The Stand and Swan Song, although the cause of the cataclysm that brings magic into our world springs from a covert government experiment gone wrong. With very little warning, high technology stops working, and magic sweeps America. Some people begin to physically change as a result of this magical storm. The hero’s young sister, Tina, for instance, morphs into something between a Smurf ® and a Tolkienesque elf. The book follows various groups of characters; some in New York City, some in Washington D.C. and some in the small West Virginia town of Boone’s gap, as they grapple with this disaster and the new world that’s dawning.

See if any of these characters sound familiar: the orphaned small-town boy who has come to New York to make his fortune, possibly at the loss of his soul; his plucky sister for whom he is responsible; the Amazon-like tough chick who has never been able to trust love; the psychic, precognitive homeless guy who lives in the subway tunnels; the brilliant but lonely school-teacher with lots of cats; the cold, soulless lawyer; the cold, soulless scientist; the tough secret-service guy, one assignment away from retirement, who is on a secret mission. I left out my favorite familiar stereotypical character; the single guy who kept his mother’s porcelain doll collection, who loves to cook, and wishes for a big strong demon (oooh, with lots of muscles) to protect him from that nasty world out there. This is Sam. Sam would be offensively stereotypical, as would Eli Stern, the lawyer/demon, if all the other characters weren’t equally one-note.

The best parts of the book take place in Boone’s Gap, although there is a harrowing sequence shown through the eyes of the secret service guy, Shango, as he searches for another secret service agent’s final notes on what may have brought about the catastrophe. The problem with Shango’s subplot is that while it has action and emotional resonance, it is ultimately meaningless. Basically, nothing in this book has much meaning because it is all written to set up the second book.

While the shallow characterization did not engage me, I also had trouble with the magic. Magic can function in a book like a force of nature, unpredictable and uncontrollable, but, like nature, it does have to be internally consistent. In Magic Time, all high technology ceases to function in one instant. Phones, TVs, electric lights, airplanes, cars… nothing works. This is presented like an electro-magnetic pulse (in one heart-breaking sequence airplanes fall out of the sky), except that battery-operated things like flashlights don’t work either. Guns don’t fire, but cigarette lighters still flame. Why? Then it turns out that some guns (very old guns) will fire. They fire magically, even when no one’s loaded black powder and a ball. Why? The lack of internal plausibility creates a paradox for the reader. Would a water-wheel work, or a windmill, if someone set it up? It seems like it should, but there are no rules, so maybe the wheels wouldn’t turn. We have no way of knowing. Do antibiotics still work, or have bacteria changed magically as well? We have no way of knowing. There is no consistency.

Page by page the action sequences are good. I liked the battle between our hero Cal and the dragon/demon Eli Stern in the high-rise that used to house Stern’s law firm. The scene in the tunnels underneath New York, when Cal finds the sword he’s dreamed about, was nice too; similarly, Hank leading his team of miners out of the mine shafts in Boone’s Gap was suspenseful. These sequences are episodic; there isn’t enough tension and drama to create forward momentum.

Magic Time has enough action and good visuals to make a fun B movie or a basic cable original mini-series.  If you are thirsting for a nice post-apocalyptic fantasy to read, however, I suggest you go back to the classics and skip this one.

Magic Time — (2001-2004) Marc Scott Zicree with Barbara Hambly, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Robert Charles Wilson. Publisher: Reality is not what it was. Desperate science run amok has collided with dark sorcery, and together they have ripped open a gaping wound into… something. Now, in an instant, everything is different. The horrific is mundane, the impossible rational. Nothing works and everyone pays.Welcome to… Magic Time. For rising young lawyer Cal Griffin, it’s just another day in the Big City, full of stress, screw-ups, deadlines, and anxiety. That is, until New York is rocked by a series of bizarre tremors — and the lights go off… for good. Trapped in a giant metropolis and cut off from the rest of the world, Cal tries desperately to make sense of the surreal chaos that engulfs his crippled city. Worst of all, the people around him are… changing. Once ordinary humans are becoming embodiments of their darkest desires, manifestations of their deepest fears. Packs of pale, crouched figures stalk the subways, glowing child-faces peer out of the shadows… and monsters prowl Times Square. Similar weirdness is happening everywhere, from the dank, cold heart of a West Virginia coal mine to a remote lab in South Dakota — where an overworked team of government physicists has unwittingly invited something catastrophic into the world — to the highest levels of power in Washington, D.C. And Cal Griffin is not the only one who will be forced into a strange new role in this brave new world of nightmare and wonder. A spinster school-teacher, a lonely miner, a refugee doctor, a visionary street person, a brooding Secret Service agent, all share a staggering responsibility with the young attorney to make sense of the senseless — and to follow an awesome destiny. For they are to be soldiers in a titanic battle between darkness and light. And its raging hellfires will effect the most astonishing transformation of all — turning a young man of pure heart into that rarest of creatures: a hero.

Marc Scott Zicree 1. Magic Time 2. Angelfire 3. Ghostlands fantasy book reviews Barbara Hambly, Robert Charles Wilson, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Marc Scott Zicree 1. Magic Time 2. Angelfire 3. Ghostlands fantasy book reviews Barbara Hambly, Robert Charles Wilson, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Marc Scott Zicree 1. Magic Time 2. Angelfire 3. Ghostlands fantasy book reviews Barbara Hambly, Robert Charles Wilson, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

    View all posts