TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #10 #11 #12 #13: The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman/John Ney Reiber*
My Vertigo tarot deck recently reminded me that I’d been meaning to read The Books of Magic for quite some time (due to some BoM artwork on the cards, my tarot isn’t actually psychic or anything). I’m only four volumes in, and apparently my local library doesn’t have the fifth book. I’m really on the fence about continuing with the series. It hasn’t held up anywhere near the standard of Gaiman’s Sandman series, either in story or artwork, and I’m not willing to spend money on the next book in the series.
The Books of Magic follows Tim Hunter, a bespectacled young boy who lives with his negligent father. His mother died in a car accident years before, and the accident appears to have been caused by his father, who drinks and watches television to avoid dealing with life. One day, Tim is visited by a mysterious foursome–John Constantine, the Stranger, Dr. Occult, and Mr. E–who tell him that he has a lot of magical potential. They take him on a journey through time, space, and magical history, ostensibly to allow him to choose an ordinary life or a life of magic, though of course he chose a life of magic by agreeing to the tour. The first volume’s artwork is beautiful, but the story is labyrinthine and slight when all is said and done.
The second volume, Bindings, sees John Ney Reiber taking over for Gaiman in the story department, and the difference is clear. This is easily the worst of the series so far, involving a convoluted paternity dispute as an excuse to spend time with Death, Gaiman’s most famous creation. It doesn’t help that in both the first and second volumes, Tim is as petulant and whiny as Order of the Phoenix-era Harry Potter–and I’m not just saying that because both boys have spectacles and pet owls. He’s still unpleasant in the other collections, but in these two, he’s pretty unbearable.
Summonings, the third volume, is a marked improvement, with the introduction of Molly, Tim’s once and future love interest, a steampunk villain, and a charming succubus named Leah. Things take a turn for the confusing in Reckonings, the fourth volume, wherein an adult Tim’s dealings with a cynical demon named Barbatos have consequences that reach back through space and time to affect present-day Tim and Molly.
Tim doesn’t appear to actually be going through any magical training, forced to muddle through and learn by trial and error, which is actually an interesting concept. Unfortunately, the series’ heavy-handed moralizing and confusing timeline haven’t really paid off for me. I’m invested just enough to be curious about how everything ultimately hangs together, but it looks like the collected volumes don’t actually include the conclusion of the story. If I happen to find a cheap copy of the next volume, I’ll probably read on, but otherwise I’m sure I’ll manage not knowing what Tim Hunter’s future holds.
*I didn’t include all the artists in my title because it would be super-long, but here are their names:
John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson, John Ridgeway, Peter Gross, Peter Snejbejerg, Gary Amaro, Dick Giordano.