MODERN MAGIC by R.S. Holt. Book review

MODERN MAGIC by R.S. Holt, The Book Guild Publishing, p/b,

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

On the outside, most people look relatively normal, but behind the scenes, it can be a different story. Pip, Geoffrey and Eleanor are all store owners, they act like normal people and no one is any the wiser; Pip is a bookshop owner and non-practicing wizard, while Geoffrey has a store for the magically gifted with a furniture shop next door. Pip is the first to see the apprentice girl goblin, Thelma who Luna has brought in to help them. As far as they are concerned, she has been sent from the Memorial Scheme, but Pip and Geoffrey are certain Thelma has come for very different reasons. As there is a major magic book store there, they think she wants to steal the secret magic hidden in the books there and they must find a way to stop her.

Here are three stories that follow the adventures of Pip, Eleanor and Geoffrey through the times as they live double lives and try to keep their real selves from the prying eyes of others in the area. What I liked about this story was how Holt had shifted some of the traditional ideas of how certain species were of a certain specific sex, namely goblins being male. In Modern Magic, the main characters are faced with a female goblin, something not usually featured in novels of this type that deal with fantasy and magic in a male-oriented world.  There is also a sense of practicality associated with this story that I enjoyed a great deal, in several instances how magic has evolved in a more modern day and where it fits in with the society we live in.

In the first chapter, which I found gripping, Thelma is brought into Pip’s life without his consent and leaves him wondering what her motives are being there; stealing his books, reading the forbidden texts or stirring up trouble for humans in general. I thought how Thelma might feel in such circumstances, but this novel is written from Pip’s point of view and we only get a brief view of what his friends feel when they are around him. In Geoffrey and Alice, we see things from his perspective as he is well aware he lives in modern and very changing times with his shop having to be updated to fit in with the modern ideas of fashion and inspiration to get customers to spend money. He is a young man who feels old and his younger friends take delight in the more up-to-date things in life; partying being one of the more popular pass times. He likes to appear trendy and non-threatening by the Normals, yet he can spot a Gifted easier than most. With wand-fittings for younger Gifted people and general life; Geoffrey doesn’t realise how it will change when Alice Howard offers her services to preserve a nearby mural. Alice is everything Geoffrey finds interesting in a woman as she is daring, sexy and mysterious. Alice has her own wand she can use to great effect, creating unusual paintings for those who enjoy the creative arts. 

The last story, Eleanor is about a woman who succeeds at her interview for working at Geoffrey’s shop, but as an accident leaves an effect on Eleanor’s mental outlook on the Gifted, friends have to come to her aid. Her problem is that her family has been cursed and the curse has been passed onto her, which means she can see people who have turned into animals by way of magic. When she is around the Gifted, she feels faint, distrustful and hurt at their duplicity. Pip and his friends realise her plight leads them to work closely with her to either help her overcome her curse, or get it lifted for good.

While other authors choose to hide their influence of others work, Holt tells in the first Acknowledgment section that it was J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series that influenced her this time around, which made me realise the honesty of the author’s work to create a more modern tale based on mythic and old world views on witchcraft and magic and even the societal implications of its use. In Write it and it happens, Holt mentions “The London Nobody Knows by Geoffrey Fletcher,” which sounded like a fictional novel created only for this book, when it is real and was published by Hutchinson in 1962, while Pip’s name of Pirrip, a derivative of Phillip is taken from “What Katy Did,” by Susan Coolidge. For me, the last story was preferable to the rest, but the entire novel is a good read for those who like a modern setting for a fantasy story. Modern Magic has plenty to offer for a Rowling, Tolkien or Lewis fan as it is easy to get into her world; it might seem small at first, but it is vast once experienced.