The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil, by Jack Barrow
Winged Feet Productions, 9780951532911, 286 pp.
What do magicians really do? Is Blackpool really the centre of evil for the UK? Is there a magical spell to make a car start? These and many other questions are asked and answered in this worthy first novel by Jack Barrow, who has written several magical theory and practice books in the last 20 years or so.
To call it a comedy novel would be to ignore the many magical theories which are subtly introduced and explained in these pages. To call it simply a magical story would be to ignore the rich vein of satire and comedy. To call it a hybrid novel of some kind might just be perceived as rude. Maybe better to say it is just very well constructed to serve many purposes, for example a number of intertwined running jokes serve to link up the text and telegraph areas where a magical concept will be explained. And unless you think this is some magick 101- primer, it is not – the concepts explained are done so in the author’s own views, and as such may be controversial to some (especially to some who are cowering at the more “fragile” end of Paganism, where some things are writ in stone and shall not be challenged) as Barrow is, it seems, by and large a ceremonial magician, but an irreverent one. He has little time for worshipping deities and a lot of time for creating innovative magics, pointing out the absurdities of modern live (both within and outside the magical practitioner realm), and finding new ways to get into and out of trouble.
In some ways this book reminds me of the style in which many Dennis Wheatley novels were built, around a solid base of history, and then extrapolating out from there. Indeed, many of the places described in this novel are real, very real, but maybe some of the events are a little more fuzzy, just as a believable novel should be. However Barrow, is, thankfully, no Wheatley- this book is sensible, funny and not the out-of-date ramblings of a port-sozzled old man! An interesting, clever and in some places postmodern writing style, that samples from many literary genres (noir, scifi, fantasy, true crime etc), and one that will be a welcome antidote to all the Potter-esque fan-drivel that attempts to pass itself off as occult fiction these days. I was not expecting to find the Village People, Triad gangsters, heavily armed old ladies, physicists who are truck drivers and much else besides in these pages.
Highly recommended, both to occultists and to anyone with a brain and a sense of humour (and that humour can be either side of the Atlantic, since while the book has a British cultural base, it is not cliquey). I hope to see future work from Jack Barrow as this first novel is to an extent the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. When the wings are completely dried it is going to be something truly beautiful. A magical novelist for the 21st Century for sure.