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WesternSFA
The Arena Man
by Steve Englehart
Tor Books, $28.99, 363pp
Release Date: February 19, 2013

Here’s a supernatural thriller to dazzle and amaze you, one that combines the significance of the Mayan calendar, as a psychological/astrological meter as well as an astronomical one, with a tradition of European magic, and two heroes allied against a cabal hell-bent on world domination, all set against a background of actual world politics.

Max August has been trained in alchemical magic by none other than Cornelius Agrippa, who had mastered the art of immortality. Max himself is now an immortal, and his apprentice/lover, Pamela Blackwell, is well on her way to attaining that level of mastery. They use their knowledge of the Mayan calendar to time and coordinate their efforts, the way a surfer rides waves. They work to perfect their skills, and to thwart the secret organization of The Necklace – as in choker – that manipulates where it does not outright control politics, media, money, and wars. There’s only the two of them, so they have to pick their arenas carefully. They can’t fight all the battles, so they choose surgical strikes to derail their enemies. Their current target: the trio of death squad black helicopters that are sowing terror across the country. Max uses his ability to project his astral body to infiltrate the helicopter squad and his magic to protect as many intended victims as possible until he can get in position to do some serious damage.

No one knows everything, so Max and Pamela never know how much inadvertent help they get from the infighting and jockeying for power amongst the cabal itself: treachery, backstabbing, betrayal, and secret alliances keep things really interesting! The cabal’s wizard, Peter Quince, is using comatose women as batteries to fuel his alliance with a demon; meanwhile, coup and counter-coup are all in the works.

The third storyline concerns the quasi-reincarnation of Max’s lost love, Valerie, who was a powerful magician in his own right before she was murdered. Now Val’s spirit is carried by a young singer who calls herself Vee, and Agrippa’s book of magic is her guideline to supernatural lore. Two men are taking an interest in Vee’s potential: Mathew is dazzled by her and wishes to be her musical agent; the sinister Christopher Nolan wants to leech her power and subsume her. Devious twists and ethical dilemmas abound; jealousy and hubris are dangers that threaten even the heroes. The gods themselves, in atavistic form, provide commentary. The oh-so-aptly named author weaves a truly magical spell with his storytelling. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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