Wednesday, 2 March 2016

#bookreview: The Last Days of Magic

The Last Days of Magic: A NovelThe Last Days of Magic: A Novel by Mark Tompkins
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I requested an ARC of The Last Days of Magic from NetGalley because it was a good fit with the trend of stories I'd been reading (and writing). There were Celts, fairies, magic, druids, kings, goddesses and Fomorians. Besides, who can resist the line, 'Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales and Biblical mysteries'? This, I thought, is something I could get behind.

Except that the novel starts with a disjointed story of a dead body and a girl who has been asked by her grandmother to run because hidden within her old set of fancy fairy tales are secret pictures of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain things the Vatican does not want anyone to know of. It then plunges you into the 1300s, flitting between Ireland and England and Rome, and the girl doesn't appear again until the end. So besides an unnecessary prologue and epilogue, which I can only guess means that the author is leaving himself an avenue to pursue a sequel or two, this is basically medieval fantasy.

The first thing that really bugged me about the digital galley I received was how badly it was formatted. Seriously, Viking, I can format better than that. Did you just dump the print version into Kindle format and not bother to proofread or something? Scrollability also fails when there are no Chapter breaks. This is like... one block of text with awkward paragraph breaks mid-sentence.

The second thing that really, really bugged me was the way Tompkins used all the Bible verses out of context and perverted everything in an attempt to... I don't know, create conflict? I'm probably a bit more pissed about this because I am a Christian and I don't like having tenets of my faith being twisted about. I'm not one who takes everything in the Bible as 100% literal truth - I've been known to admit that some of my readings (especially Revelations) are taken at a slightly more allegorical level, and there are times I read the Old Testament as myth and legend; i.e. they may or may not have happened as written, but the underlying principles are still the same, consistent and true. I believe I try to do the same when I write my own fairy tales and myths - if a certain fairy creature is written a certain way, I would try to stay true to type.
Tompkins has instead decided that the only reason the Roman Church performs Exorcism is to then capture the demons and use them against other demons and half-angelic beings. In his novel most (if not all) magical beings are actually the offspring of angels/demons and humans, i.e. Nephilim. I'm rather meh about that. This trope has been used before, including in Patricia Lynne's Michael, which I loved/hated. Secret Vatican group, fine. Exorcism, fine. Strange myths about Adam/Lilith vs Adam/Eve, strange but okay, I've encountered those before... Priests running about using witchcraft and summoning demons? Uh, no. Mis-quoting Bible verses for no good reason (and didn't add anything to the story except a tinge of blasphemy), why and what for?

Anyway, between Ireland where the priests of the order of St Patrick spout weird legends posited to be biblical (as far as I know, they're not) and Rome where factions of the Vatican are plotting to destroy Ireland in order to gain control of the magic (eh, what?) and the Irish Christian Church, King Richard II is apparently a half-crazed bi-sexual man who's in bed with his wife, Anne and his um, friend (?) de Vere at the same time and being outmaneuvered by de Vere, his lords, and his priests into throwing money and forces to subdue Ireland for them. Let's not forget France, where the King (again, mad) is controlled by a coven of witches whilst his Queen sleeps with his brother. I am not a history buff - these could actually be historically true (I mean, without the magical tangent). But a novel where most of the powerful men are weak and controlled by conniving, power-hungry and money-hungry women is just... extremely grating.

I suppose in a mad sort of way this is supposed to make sense and supposed to fit together into a remarkable tale - a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions but the writing is choppy and disjointed, jumping back and forth between years and locations, raising more questions than it does any answers. Lumps of fake history, unconvincing legend and perverted myth are added in as backstory, making it even more unwieldy a read.

It was a tedious read and I was most happy to get to the end of it so that I could write this review. I was about to give it two stars, but I realised... no, this story is not okay. I did not like it. Religious protests aside (because I could be biased), it was still annoying confusing.
I wish I liked it, but I don't.

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