Category: pagan fiction

Book Review: The final Bast installment, The Bowl of Night

book review, pagan fiction November 23, 2011

And Rosemary Edghill really redeemed herself with this one.

In The Bowl of Night, Bast attends a pagan festival, HallowFest.  Take the city girl out of the city, dump her in the woods, and give her a body.

Bast takes a walk in the woods after having had a tryst with man she’s wanted for a long time and finds the body of the local Biblethumper, Jackson Harm.  His body is arranged ritually, with candles around him and anointed with cinnamon.  He has a very unusual stab wound– made by a kukri– and Bast has to help discover the murderer before the entire pagan community is blamed.

Excellent tone.  Pagan festivals have a particular “flavor” and Edghill nails it.  The vast majority of pagans who attend the festivals are urban dwellers, or at least not the kind of people who camp on a regular basis.  While everyone is having a good time and glad to be sharing the experience with their fellow practitioners, there is also an underlying frustration and the feeling of not quite belonging.  Everyone longs for a shower and a good meal and a little privacy.  Bast’s HallowFest is described perfectly.

I still did not feel like I came away from the book knowing Bast the way I want to, but I do feel as if I know her better.  We get more of her internal struggles in this book.  She’s left Changing and is considering starting her own coven.  We meet an ex lover and get a feel for some of her past.  We also get a better look inside her head when she frets over her tryst with Julian.

Very well done.  I enjoyed this book the most out of all three.  There is still one instance where the “willing suspension of disbelief” must be applied, but maybe less so than in the others.  The entire story takes place over about three days, and it’s fast paced and utterly believable.

Overall impressions of all the books…

I am impressed by Edghill’s accuracy in describing the pagan community.  Her tone is absolutely perfect.  Either she’s spent a lot of time in New Age bookstores or she is a member of the community herself.  I did not like the second book quite as much because it dealt too much with maybes and implausibilities.  There were too many characters introduced.  In the third book we return to the close community around Bast and we delve deeper into her head.

Edghill’s Bast books are a good example of how to use the Craft in writing.  Edghill does a good job of portraying the Wiccan lifestyle as it is in real life and not in the paranormal. As a friend of mine says, “When I think of pagan inspirational, I think of Edghill.”

All griping aside, these books have joined my all-time favorites list and will be read again and then reread.  Or will when my friend returns them.  🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!

Book review: Edghill’s Book of Moons

book review, pagan fiction November 16, 2011

The second book in Rosemary Edghill’s Bast series is Book of Moons. We continue to see the pagan community as it actually is, not with a layer of paranormal atop.

Bast is still working at Houston Graphics, still in her coffin-shaped apartment, still frequenting the same pagan haunts as in Speak Daggers to Her.  She is puzzled by the disappearance of several Books of Shadow (a witch’s personal spellbook).  A strange sort of guy is hankering for admission into her coven, there’s talk around town of the witch status of Mary, Queen of Scots, someone is stealing all the rare books from the NYC occult shops and then to top it all off, a couple of her friends end up dead.

Before he is murdered, Ned Skelton (the oddball looking to join the coven) hands off a box containing a mysterious book reputed to be Mary’s BoS to Bast.  Her stewardship of the box, and therefore the book, puts her in grave danger.

This book was less focused and lacked some of the cohesiveness of the first book.  While the basic plot is a good one, the connection with Mary, Queen of Scots, makes it less believable and weaker. I found this book a more difficult read, in terms of it just keeping my attention, than I found Speak Daggers to Her. Edghill brings in quite a few more characters, and it found a bit difficult to keep them, their pagan slant and other pertinent details straight.

Once again, her description of the Craft and pagan community is accurate.  This plotline dealt less with the supernatural aspects of the Craft than Speak Daggers to Her did.

One thing that is bothering me so far is that even in this, the second book, I still don’t have a clear idea of what Bast looks like.  Her emotions run a little flat to me.  She’s witty and clever, but I don’t feel anything from her.  She’s a tad dry and a little detached. I want to have a character who is more colorful than Bast.  The closest I’ve gotten to feeling like I was experiencing things through Bast’s eyes (which surprises me, since these books are in first person POV) was in this novel when she is being threatened by the book thief.  He has her at gunpoint at Houston Graphics and Edghill’s descriptions of Bast’s physical sensations are good.  However, I was not emotionally invested.

Despite this shortcoming, I still love the Bast books for their portrayal of the pagan community.

Book Review: Rosemary Edghill’s Speak Daggers to Her

book review, pagan fiction November 9, 2011

The Bast trilogy

Rosemary Edghill has written a trilogy of mystery novels about a modern-day witch named Bast.  Bast is a freelance graphic artist at Houston Graphics who practices Wicca in New York City.  She is an established member of the NYC occult community and a third degree initiate in the mysteries of Wicca.  I purchased all three books, Speak Daggers to Her, Book of Moons, and The Bowl of Night as one volume.

My main interest in reading these books was to examine how Edghill incorporates the realistic use of witchcraft into her books.  The main character in my thesis novel also practices Wicca, and I am still working out the best possible portrayal of Wicca in fiction.  When I first considered writing a witch, I didn’t want to introduce an element of the paranormal or fantasy into my thesis, as it is supposed to show how a real-life practitioner actually uses magic in their everyday life.

It is also difficult to know which “flavor” of paganism to portray… Gardnerian Wicca, Santeria, the O.T.O, Dianic…  and on and on.  It’s tough because even those that practice Wicca, most likely practice something different than what I practice.  There is no set dogma in the Craft.   I personally practice Wicca– eclectic with a Gardnerian tilt– it is what I am familiar with, it is what I seek to bring into the mainstream in a positive way and so it makes sense for me to use it.

Rosemary Edghill’s books are some of the few which portray Wicca as a it is in “real life,” without the paranormal cast.  These are good books to help a writer consider what readers want and/or expect to see when they read about the Craft.

So, on to the first review.

Speak Daggers to Her, the first book in the trilogy.  We meet the main character, Bast a.k.a. Karen Hightower, and the cast of characters. This contains slight spoilers.

Bast is at work when her friend Lace calls to tell her that she has found their mutual friend (Lace’s lover), Miriam Seabrook, dead in her apartment.  Lace, being of the anti-establishment ilk, bolts from the apartment, leaving Bast to report the death and handle the busywork.

One thing leads to another and Bast quickly discovers that Miriam has been involved with a questionable occult group called Baba Yaga.  The leader of the group, Michael Ruslan, knows more than he lets on and Bast finds herself in hot water with him and with her community.  Bast is convinced that Ruslan is practicing black magic, a big no-no in the community, along with using drugs during his rituals without the knowledge or consent of his circle.  Bast is certain that Ruslan is responsible for Miriam’s death, whether karmically or literally, and she sets out to prove it.

Reading this book felt very much like slipping on my favorite pair of slippers (and that’s really saying something because I have a seriously committed relationship with my slippers).  I was very familiar with the flavor of Wicca portrayed in Speak Daggers to Her and I related strongly with the main character.  Bast’s experiences in the various occults shops closely mirror my own.  Her opinions of the Craft and some of the practices of Wicca are similar to mine as well.

Therefore I found her portrayal of the Craft in fiction to be pretty accurate.  She is very heavy with magic/paganism in the plot, indeed this installment revolves a death by magical means or by means attained during the practice of magic.  The bad guy is caught in the end basically by karma (the rule of what goes around, comes around… threefold… the Wiccan Rede).  Her plot is dependent on the tenets of magic and how it works.

Edghill’s books are the best I’ve found for incorporating paganism and Wiccan magic into writing without also incorporating a paranormal element. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Harm None, M.R. Sellars

book review, pagan fiction September 21, 2010

Let me preface this post by stating that I write pagan fiction (amongst other things like mystery, thriller, romantic suspense). I write pagan fiction without the use of paranormal elements. As a practicing Wiccan, I’m bothered by the fact that it’s hard to find fiction including paganism that doesn’t bring in some kind of non-realistic magic. The topic of what constitutes real magic is something for another day, but suffice it to say that in all the years I’ve been practicing, I’ve never seen anyone levitate, shoot energy bolts from their hands or turn anyone else into a newt (much to my chagrin… that would be a handy talent). I do believe that some people are more in tune with their environment than others, but the movie magic? Nah.

What I’m trying to do is give a clear picture of what the practice of witchcraft really is, which is the use of energy with intent (some people argue that prayer is actually the same thing). In my thesis, my main character falls under suspicion of murder because she’s a practicing witch who happens to know an awful lot about herbs and poisonous plants. She’s a witch, but she doesn’t ride a broom, doesn’t light candles with her breath or practice mind reading.

That said, I’ve been on a search for a long time now for authors with a similar goal. A few years ago I came across M.R. Sellars. His storytelling abilities impressed me and I grab any of his books I can. Here’s a review I wrote of his first book:

Harm None, the first Rowan Gant book, by M.R. Sellars

The author, M.R. Sellars, commits what may be the biggest faux pas I have ever seen. In the author’s note he explains his lack of proper grammar usage and tells his reader not to email him:

Note also that this book is a first-person narrative. You are seeing this story through the eyes of Rowan Gant. The words you are reading are his thoughts. In first person writing, the narrative should match the dialogue of the character telling the story. Since Rowan, (and anyone else that I know of for that matter,) does not speak in perfect, unblemished English throughout his dialogue, he will not do so throughout his narrative. Therefore, you will notice that some grammatical anomalies have been retained (under protest from editors) in order to support this illusion of reality.
Let me repeat something–I DID IT ON PURPOSE. Do NOT send me an email complaining about my grammar. It is a rude thing to do, and it does nothing more than waste your valuable time.

Okay, first of all, I flipped through the book and the stylistic grammar he’s talking about is the use of such things like “oughta” instead of “ought to.” I believe that a writer should use proper grammar, for the most part, maybe except for emphasizing something or to establish an accent, and allow the reader to “stylize” the dialogue on their own. When I am reading dialogue, if I see “ought to” my mind usually interprets that as “oughta.” Using this kind of stylized grammar will only remove the reader from the story because it makes them think “oh, bad grammar.”
Second, don’t write down to your reader. And don’t offend them in the author’s note by telling them not to be rude and write an email. Oy.

This should be interesting.

…about a week later…

I read it. And I must admit I enjoyed it. The plot is tight, the voice is appropriate for the story, most of the facts about Wicca are accurate and portray practitioners in a fairly objective light.

The plot… Rowan Gant is a practicing Witch. His best friend, Ben Storm, is a cop. Ben is assigned to a murder case in which the victim, a Witch herself, has been ritually mutilated and a pentacle drawn on the wall with her blood. Ben recognizes the symbol on the wall as the same as a pendant that Rowan wears, so he asks Rowan to “consult” on the case. There are other murders committed during the course of the book that cause Rowan to believe that the murderer is a Witch and is trying to summon a demon or something equally evil. Rowan manages to track down the killer through slightly supernatural means (more on that later) and also sets up nice conflict between himself and several people on the police force and a reporter.

It’s a nice, taut storyline. Every scene carefully drives the plot forward. I didn’t feel like this was accomplished at the expense of character development. I felt like I got to know Rowan, Ben and Felicity throughout the story and saw them grow. Well done.

The description is also quite good. He describes the murder scenes in vivid detail and nothing left out of Rowan’s visions. Overall, I liked the story very much.

I do have a few points of contention. (Naturally.)

I still stand by my earlier comment that it’s not necessary to use the stylistic grammar. I did feel as though it was jarring me from the story because I had to think about how to pronounce it. When I read dialogue I don’t automatically assume that each character is speaking in stilted English. I put the style into it on my own, as I imagine most readers do.

Sellars also points out in his author’s note that he knows that the magic is “over the top.” Wow. Yeah, that’s one way to put it. Rowan, through the use of study and meditation, has been able to “train” himself into what basically amount to powers of ESP. He can have visions, premonitions, clairvoyant recollections, etc. He identifies the murderer using dreams and visions that he has at the crime scenes. No Wiccan I know has been able to “train” themselves into these sort of abilities. It’s a little discouraging to me that pagans feel the need to embellish the Craft rather than tell it how it really is.

I already own the second Rowan Gant book and will be reading it. Hopefully Sellars will have toned down the “over the top” magic and the stylistic dialogue to really showcase his talent as a storyteller.

To find out more about Mr. Sellars, you can visit his website at www.mrsellars.com or his blog at mrsellars.com/mrblog.