Mister Magic
Grade : B+

Kirsten White admits in her author’s notes that she wrote Mister Magic as a way to come to terms with her childhood lived within the Mormon church. White is not kind about religious bigotry (or sexism or racism) in the book, as well she shouldn’t be, but sometimes her attempt at painting them accurately results in her villains coming off as big cartoony caricatures. The book is a surreal journey through the imagination and tries to leave the reader with hope amid its authentically creepy sense of dread and surveillance. That sense of fever-dream nightmarishness is what makes the book a unique and interesting read.

Mister Magic lingers in the memory of hundreds of children who grew up watching it over the years, yet there’s no physical evidence it ever existed, even though its history spans back to the 1940s when it was a radio show. There are vague memories, quickly removed from the internet, expressed by those who watched it. They remember the chant the children starring in the show used to summon the titular magician to them, and where the six main protagonists would use his help to find succor and help. There are whispers that the show finally left the airwaves after a dire accident killed one of the young actors. But no one knows for sure what’s happened to all of them. It’s the kind of mystery that has spawned an online community that’s constantly chasing its own tail.

Val was the youngest kid on the set, but also the boldest and most demanding. She started working on the show when she was six years old, ended it when she was eight, and cannot remember much of the time between. Her amnesia is so severe that she’s been living on her father’s ranch, taking care of him and doing little else. Soon after he dies, she’s emailed by a co-star who invites her to a reunion and podcast taping for the final Mister Magic cast.

Val’s four co-stars – Javi, Marcus, Isaac and Jenny – are all now middle-aged, with families and trauma of their own. The sixth ‘friend’, Kitty, Val’s sister, is the one who disappeared while they were shooting an episode and hasn’t been seen since. Val cannot remember what happened to Kitty, but comes to believe that everyone involved with the podcast – and even in the town where they’re recording the podcast – blames her for what happened to her. Val and the rest of her childhood companions team up to try to figure out the mystery of their missing years.

There are two keys to Mister Magic’s success: Val’s fierceness and the incredible sense of dread inherent within its prose. The way each chapter breaks away into internet chatter to help build the show’s legend both grounds it and makes it super believable. There are hints of It in the prose, and the narrative is dotted with Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood gone-wrong vibes.

I really liked each of our five leads. The problem here is the villains. Flat and undistinguished, it’s the acolytes of the big bad who are more interesting here, versus the big bad itself. White also indulges in stridency towards the end of the novel, her metaphors wearing a little thin.

And nonetheless, Mister Magic is hideously compelling in its quest to make you care about the abuses done to these kids. Its bizarre worldbuilding becomes a part of your brain and the story will keep you enthralled in spite of its flaws.

Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes

Grade: B+

Book Type: Suspense

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : August 13, 2023

Publication Date: 08/2023

Review Tags: horror paranormal

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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