Wiccan Shadows by Lori J. Schiele

Wiccan Shadows
Lori J. Schiele
ImaJinn Books, 2011
282 pages

I admit that ever since I read Rosemary Edghill’s Bast books I’ve been a fan of fantasy-flavored pagan-ish fiction. And in recent years, as the paranormal romance and related fiction market has exploded, authors have been quite happy to oblige my demand. Of course, the quality has varied: authors who forget that show is better than tell when working pagan material into the story, Mary Sue characters, and just plain bad writing.

Happily, Wiccan Shadows avoids these issues, which is especially impressive considering the author utilizes elements that have often hit trope territory–werewolves, for example, and a Big Bad Evil Thing that the protagonist and her coven must work against magically to save themselves and potentially the world. Schiele takes these elements of her story and weaves them into an enjoyable, well-written, and fast-paced book with just enough romance to add it into that genre, but not so much as to be overwhelming.

The story starts with the violent death of one of the coven members, and immediately we’re introduced to some of the worldbuilding that Schiele has done. Like some authors, she takes some liberties with what magic is and what being Wiccan actually means; one of the characters relies on her “Wiccan senses”, for example, and such things as communication with animal familiars and astral projection are given much more power and omniscience than in real life. It’s not overdone, though, and these things make sense in an alternate reality where spiritual beings can manifest physically. This makes it a good setting for the unfolding story in which the identity of the murderer is ambiguous at best, and the danger to the remaining members of the coven grows with every hour.

The love triangle–such as it is–seems a little forced and predictable, as the main protagonist’s current significant other becomes an increasing asshole, while Shiny New Sexy Guy–who just happens to be a werewolf–and who also happens to be an animal control officer–steps in. There’s no question as to who to root for. Still, the interactions are realistic, and just about everyone knows someone who’s been in each place in that dynamic.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that it made me curious to see how Schiele will develop this series in later books. While I felt there was closure, I got enough of the glimpse of this world to want to visit it again. Well done.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Secrets of the Lost Symbol by John Michael Greer

Secrets of the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to Secret Societies, Hidden Symbols & Mysticism
John Michael Greer
Llewellyn, 2009
230 pages

Remember a few years ago when Dan Brown was all the rage? His fiction introduced people to a hodgepodge of occult symbols and concepts–and as with anything that ends up tossed into the mainstream, there was a lot of incomplete information and juxtaposition of odd bedfellows. Granted, his works may not have done to magical lodges what the 1990s schlock The Craft did to Wicca, but it’s always a bit frustrating to see people getting only part of the story and little of the context.

And who better to disentangle the facts from the fluff than John Michael Greer? Secrets of the Lost Symbol, an answer to Brown’s The Lost Symbol, is sort of the pocket version of Greer’s well-received The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, which was itself an ambitious, thorough and well-researched overview of various ceremonial, magical and related traditions, symbols and other matters. While the casual curious might have found that particular work daunting in its scope, this distillation of entries that touch on the works of Brown and his ilk is a much more approachable book.

However, it’s not just for the magical “tourist”. Those who are well-versed in other magical traditions but new to more ceremonial traditions may find this to be a good way to broaden their understanding of esoterica. It also would make an excellent guide for students of covens and other teaching groups who want to offer more than just what their own tradition teaches. Writers may find it of use to be able to more accurately infuse their fiction with esoteric elements in a realistic manner, without having to immerse themselves entirely in a study of the occult. In fact, anyone who needs a quick, well-researched and well-written desk reference.

It’s also a good introduction to Greer’s writing in general. If you like this book, consider investing in The New Encyclopedia of the Occult at the very least. He definitely knows his stuff when it comes to magical orders, and is one of the best writers for reaching a variety of audiences.

Five pawprints out of five.

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