Bell, Book and Murder: The Bast Novels
Forge Books, 1994
Okay, so a lot of folks who read these reviews most likely have already read these novels at least once. I read the first one years ago, and just now got around to hunting down the omnibus edition including the entire trilogy. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so here’s my review, just in case there are pagan folk who need a good tip-off on a thoroughly wonderful piece of pagan-flavored fiction.
Bast is a thirty-something Gardnerian Wiccan in New York city. She works doing book layout as a freelancer, and has a “coffin-sized and shaped” apartment. Active in her local pagan community, she also ends up being a key figure in solving three separate murders, one per novel. Her fellow pagans and magicians are realistic, running the gamut from flakes to uber-serious ceremonialists, and all points in between. Bast herself is well-grounded and mature, but not without her flaws.
The mysteries themselves are well-paced and inventive, and while they incorporate the pagan aspects of the novels to one extent or another, it’s in a believable style. I never felt like any of the stories were strained–I think the latter two books, particularly their endings, were better than the first, but even the first was a great read.
You know all those recent novels where authors try to add information about paganism in the duration of the storyline? This is the book that they aspire to be (and only a few achieve similar quality). Instead of clumsy attempts to have a lesson on neopaganism at one point in the book, Bast does what any good writer does when introducing niche material into a storyline–she weaves it in seamlessly with the narrator’s commentary. Details on paganism are integrated fluidly along with the basics of (pre-computer) book layout, and what it’s like to live in the Big Apple. I learned a good deal about the latter two, and thought the former was quite well handled as well.
What I loved the most about her portrayal of neopaganism, though, is that never once is there anything unbelievable. There’s no Harry Potter-esque magic. There’s not even speculation in the vein of the famous British Wiccan ritual during WWII that may or may not have been actually effective (and may not even occurred for that matter). There aren’t any incarnated angels or cross-planar spirits physically materializing or voices of deities in the middle of New York. Bast does spells and rituals in the course of the novels, but none of them are shown to definitely cause anything out of the ordinary. In other words–the world of Bast could just as easily be this one.
These novels have a lot going for them–well written, excellent integration of specialized material, and believable characters and settings. If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, they’re probably one of my most highly recommended fiction pieces on this review site to date.
Five pleased pawprints out of five.