Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem

Over the past couple of years I have been making a point of broadening my reading experience, departing from favorite authors to try new folks, both big names and small press and indies. I confess, the big names have mostly disappointed, but I have been pleasantly impressed with a lot of small press books. They offer a cornucopia of stuff that is off the beaten path of what the Big 6 New York houses are competing with each other to publish. And that stuff is starting to all look the same.

Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem by Karian L. Fabian is a sly delight from Swimming Kangaroo Books, and winner of the the 2010 INDIE award for fantasy. Get past the cheesy cover and you have a fun, fast-moving tale told by a dragon, Vern. Vern is a private investigator paired with a nun, both of whom work for the Faerie Catholic Church, though in Vern's case, he was dragooned into it by St. George. He has neither all of his size nor all of the powers he was created with, having to earn them back through good works over the centuries. For an immortal dragon, this is a drag, but Vern bears up well. He is cynical, a punster, and suffers fools not at all. This makes him delightfully blunt, a character I can truly get behind.

In this adventure (there are several Vern books and stories), the bishop sends our duo to Florida to keep an eye on the magical folk who have been invited to attend a Mensa convention along with a bunch of wary mortals. There is, of course, an accompanying mystery for Vern and Grace to solve, though not a strong one. Mostly Vern spends his time dealing with magical incidents caused by his fellow attendees: pixie pranks and the like, while pursuing the uber-clean trail left by brownies rampaging through the guest rooms and trying to figure out what the elves are up to. Fabian's imagination in this regard set me laughing on several occasions. She is very good at taking existing mythology and making it her own.

She also manages to work in a plausible set of problems related to the intersection of Faerie and the "real" world of mortals, and what happens when magic and technology mix in worlds that have never known the other. Ordinary stuff becomes dangerous; the dangerous becomes a trap for the ignorant. I especially liked poor Vern dealing with the obnoxious tourists who thought he was a coin-operated kiddie ride. The underlying plot involving a get-rich scheme in Faerie has appropriate side effects and drawbacks. I could wish this plot thread had been brought out more strongly throughout, as it seems to just appear toward the second half of the book and does not really drive the action.

However, that is my biggest quibble. If you are looking for New York Deep Meaning and polished phrasing, keep looking. This is straightforward, fast storytelling, aimed at laughs that it gets, and does not purport to be anything else. I like that! Fabian's style is eminently readable, and her world is sufficiently different, as is Vern, to offer something to even the most jaded dragon aficionado. She has solid foundations for many tales to come, and I intend to read them.

I recommend Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem to anyone looking for a light read and some laugh-out-loud moments with an offbeat character. A great book for a dreary winter afternoon.