Dime Store Magic
by Kelley Armstrong, dark fantasy (2004)
Orbit, £6.99, ISBN 1-84149-323-6


Kelley Armstrong introduces the rather naive witch Paige Winterbourne in Stolen, where Paige survives a brutal high body count adventure that sees her adopting the highly gifted witch child Savannah.

Dime Store Magic is her story that continues from there. Paige and Savannah are happily reenacting their very own take on the Gilmore Girls when Kristof Nast, son of the powerful Nast clan leader in the Cabal and the father of Savannah, files a custody suit for Savannah. This apparently straightforward action isn't spurred by mere paternal affections - Savannah is the daughter of a powerful dark witch and the Cabal, the most powerful organization of sorcerers that have watched The Godfather one too many times, can have many uses for Savannah. Paige is determined to keep Savannah out of their hands, only to be plunged into a living nightmare when the Cabal, abetted by the evil half-demonic Leah O'Donnell, start attacking her and Savannah where it hurts them the most. Luckily, Paige finds an unlikely ally in a rogue sorcerer named Lucas Cortez, a lawyer with many secrets and someone who may break the taboo of witch-sorcerer relationships to give Paige a chance at romance.

Dime Store Magic is a very entertaining story - the pacing, the way the author weaves tension and fear - everything works like a charm to provide a thrilling ride of a story. Unfortunately, I also have to try and control my blood pressure from rupturing a few blood vessels in my head because I swear, Paige Winterbourne must be born under the constellation for idiots.

This is one of those unfortunate stories where the chills and screams come from the heroine blundering badly in a more sophisticated but still imbecilic variation of the "ohmigosh, there's a killer outside my window, let me run upstairs in only my panties to the attic to hide" routine. Twice Paige drags Savannah along into Leah's trap, both traps set in precisely the same pattern of entrapment. Paige forgets to follow-up on important actions. Worse, she wants to play by human rules while fighting the Cabal and she's the only one shocked when the Cabal manipulates the human players to give her and Savannah a hard time. By the time late in the story when she finally decides to play dirty, I am close to vomiting out my own liver in my irritation. This is one story where the heroine really suffers because she is too stupid to stop following the nice guy rules when it's obvious that the bad guys don't give a toss about playing fair.

And even when she finally decides to play dirty, she still botches up everything. She can't even jump over a reanimated corpse to save Savannah, for heaven's sake. Screaming is her modus operandi, apparently. Even at her Glorious Moment of Epiphany, the best she can do is to weep, cry for her dead mommy, and wail that she's a, I quote, "fuck-up". She has no arguments from me about that, but after suffering through Paige's so-stupid moments for hundreds of pages, I want to see her toughen up and be smart for once instead of wailing that yes, she is a fuck-up.

Paige isn't just stupid, she is also hopelessly passive. She keeps saying that her town is prejudiced and insular, but she can't move herself and Savannah away. Only at the end does Cortez come in and sweep her out of town, and this is after Paige's own Coven, the one that she stupidly insists on being loyal to when they have sold her out to hang dry by herself, finally kicks her to the curb, so to speak. And don't get me started about the Coven, a bunch of unfortunately stereotypical selfish, cackling, cowardly middle-aged biddies. The male sorcerers form organized crime bodies and wield spectacular powers while the female witches devour each other like some RWA free-for-all while insisting on Moral Values and Conformity. How stereotypical, this portrayal of gender divide, and how stupid for Paige that she chooses to be a martyr instead of wising up and starting her own Coven. She is aware of the weaknesses of the Coven, mind you, which makes her decision to stay and act like some Joan of Arc figure crossed with her namesake in Charmed even more exasperating.

At the end of the day, I decide to be generous and give this book an acceptable grade as I did enjoy the author's world building and her use of pagan folklore to enrich her fantasy world. Since Paige's story hasn't ended, I'd choose to believe that her imbecile adventures in Dime Store Magic are merely growing pains and she'll wise up and toughen up in the next book. For now I'm still on the author's train but I have one foot off the carriage, so to speak, ready to jump if she persists in using the stupidity and martyr complex of her female characters as a catalyst of her stories.

Rating: 70


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