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Focus on hocus pocus

Do you love Greek myth, time travel, philosophy and robots? Well! Pre-order this straight away, and start marking down the days until January 8. This is a well-wrought, brain-teasing, morality-questioning tale, and despite an entirely unsatisfying, yet conceptually correct ending - which still has me feeling a bit steamed - I was engrossed by this right from the off.

Poor Apollo, Sun God of Ancient Greece! He can't understand why Daphne didn't get the eroticism of the hunting/chasing thing he does.

She actually prayed to his sister Pallas Athene to change her into a tree. Athene points out that he needs to learn a thing or two about the choice and free will that humans have.

This intrigues him enough to give up his powers to become human in order to learn these lessons - and also to participate in an experiment that Athene has decided to run.

The Goddess of Wisdom reckons it might be interesting to set up a city based on Plato's Republic, in order to create a race that has been nurtured on his principles. 'Create a race' already introduces rather touchy ideology,.

Despite the earnestness of the majority of humans involved, and despite the divine genesis of the project, it is doomed to fail - particularly as Athene planted the whole crowd of thousands of children and a few hundred adults on Atlantis.

Fantastic! We already know the endgame, the inhabitants who have all been time-travelled out of various eras of history don't, and there are a couple of gods to whom it doesn't make a blind bit of difference.

The story is primarily told in three voices - Apollo's, the voice of one of the slave children, and a formerly frustrated intellectual Victorian female - and each unique viewpoint is perfectly chosen.

That the majority of the action unfolds through Socratic dialogue doesn't make it any less gripping, but that it ended the way it did was stunningly unsatisfactory

The review copy failed to state that this is the first in a trilogy, and this knowledge would have made me far less cross. I can't wait to see what happens next.

If this type of story is your cup of tea, you will be gasping for the rest of the pot at the end!

THE MAGICIAN'S LAND

By Lev Grossman Cornerstone (2014) €14.50 HHHII

This is the last in a trilogy that claims its Narnia legacy and is consistently held up as the anti-Harry Potter by critics. I read the first one and skimmed the second - will the third be the charm?

The thing is, the charmlessness of the main protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, is meant to be taken as a refreshing antidote to all that magical Dumbledorish nonsense.

It's meant to be magic for all those adult readers who may have liked something seamier, sexier and yet with extraordinary powers.

It's more about power than it is about magic, and as such, it certainly is as seamy as real life. But does one pick up such a book to read about real life?

I'd say no, even if the charmless Quentin has become rather more sympathetic.

Having been made aware of his magical qualities as a young adult, and educated in a school that tried to be as least like Hogwarts as possible, he found himself King of the fantasy land called Fillory.

Now, he's been kicked out of the kingdom, he's 30, and he's teaching at is old school. He's far from settled, however, and a variety of challenges turn up to move him forward and in many ways allow him to to make amends.

Grossman excels in the details but his wry, knowing, cynical tone doesn't really work.

MR MIRACLE

By Debbie Macomber Random House (2014) €6.99 HHIII

The saccharine aspects of this made me long for Grossman's rigour, but it is unfair to compare the two, as this one is 100pc sincere.

Harry the Angel comes to earth to help his first human; full of confidence, but begins to make a million mistakes in his effort to sort out the life of Addie, who feels her life has been a failure, and to hook her up with Erich.

There are some fun bits due to Harry's bumbling, but the human storyline is not engaging.

It's set at Christmas, so if you are an unconditional fan of holiday fiction, you may find something here to like.

THE HAWLEY BOOK OF THE DEAD

By Chrysler Szarlan Random House (2014) €24.50 HHIII

Revelation Dyer is a stage magician who is actually magical, and yet is so uninformed about the magical legacy of her own family it beggars belief.

Nor does she seem to believe in the magical events that are happening all around her.

Szarlan front-loads her story with tragedy and mystery, yet can't hold the tension.

The journey is fraught by the petulance of the main character, who becomes less likeable as we go on, and a series of events that land like plot points dropped from a height rather than an organic part of the story

I struggled to finish it.

SORCERER

By Susan M Bowes Smith Publicity (2014) €2.71, eBook HIIII

Stilted prose and dialogue tell a familiar tale of the birth of a child who is meant to be a pure magician and threatens to have adverse effects on an evil sorcerer.

Here, instead of attempting to kill the child and leaving him with a lighting bolt scar, the evil sorcerer raises the child and keeps him under his thumb.

Or does he?

It's a fine idea, but it is not well executed.


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