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Voodoo Child
Michael Reaves
Tor Books, 350 pages

Voodoo Child
Michael Reaves
Michael Reaves is an Emmy-award-winning television writer, screenwriter and novelist. He has written for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Twilight Zone and was a story editor and writer on Batman: The Animated Series and on Gargoyles. He's had more than thirteen novels published, including The Shattered World, Darkworld Detective, Street Magic and Night Hunter. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

Michael Reaves Website
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A review by Neil Walsh

It's Mardi Gras, 1998. Most of New Orleans is partying. Mal Sangre is plotting. You see, Mal Sangre is an ambitious man. He wants to be a god. And he doesn't care who has to die -- or how many -- or how horribly -- before he attains his goal.

At present, Sangre is a very powerful man, even for a megalomaniac black-magic-wielding drug lord. And thanks to Sangre, a bit of chemistry and some subtle spell craft, there's a new drug on the streets of New Orleans that not only has a nice clean high, but also is extremely addictive and turns users into "zombies," who become willing (or rather will-less) slaves to the evil occult drug lord. The street name for this new wonder drug is Blood. But this isn't the only bad blood created by Sangre; there's a long history of nastiness that brought him to where he now hovers on the brink of dark divinity.

So who's going to save the world? Well, about the only one qualified for the job (since he's the only one who knows what's really going on) is Shane LaFitte, a Haitian houngan who came to New Orleans six years ago to stop Sangre's madness. Unfortunately, LaFitte hasn't made much headway in the past six years because he's been in prison for most of that time, in an agony of remorse. You see, he brutally butchered his beloved wife and then did some decorating with her guts. That's the kind of thing you can find yourself doing if you let your guard down while dealing with Sangre. LaFitte isn't going to make that mistake again. But this time he has more mundane problems to deal with: making amends to his loa and the other divine entities of the Voodoo pantheon; convincing his parole officer that magic is real; dodging assassins; and escaping from prison.

Meanwhile, K.D. (not to be confused with Katie) Wilcox, an intern at Sisters of Grace Hospital, is becoming ever more perplexed by the volume of odd cases coming through the ER lately. Oh, and also by the occasional corpse that gets up and starts making trouble. When her new boyfriend, a local jazz musician, runs afoul of loan-sharks and drug dealers, the name Mal Sangre keeps popping up.

Sangre is very close to his apotheosis. One last sacrifice is all that is required (well, other than the mass of generic sacrifices, but they hardly count) before the Nameless things from beyond the unimaginable will come to deify Sangre. One special sacrifice. An innocent, with great potential, favoured by the gods. The Voodoo Child...

Now let's take a moment to compare, shall we?
Blood: A clean high, with an addictive quality, that can turn the user into a zombie who will act in slavish accordance with the will of the evil Mal Sangre.
Voodoo Child: Clean prose, with an addictive quality, that can mesmerize the reader into a kind of zombie state, turning pages in slavish accordance with the will of the author.
Hmm... Maybe this novel is scarier than I thought.

All the essential elements for a good horror are here: good guys, bad guys, innocent victims, weird and unusual happenings, gross and disgusting happenings, dark and stormy nights, eerie dreams which are more than mere dreams, a cemetery at midnight, really thick mists, spooky mood music... (No, wait. Maybe the spooky music was only in my head.)

What better setting for a horror novel of black magic than a city where the dead rise up from their graves annually to celebrate and be celebrated? A city of ghosts, and voodoo, and magic, and a long history of unusual occurrences. Not to mention a certain reputation for corruption and crime. Reaves takes full advantage of his setting to establish an unsettling mood. Even among the bright lights and revelry of Mardi Gras, there are ominous shadows lurking. And Reaves will have you eyeing the shadows suspiciously, looking for supernatural critters lying in wait or hunting for victims, side by side with the thieves and pushers also seeking victims.

The narrative moves along at a good clip. Maybe even too fast. If I have one complaint about this book, it's that it didn't seem to take enough time to develop. I found it difficult to firmly identify with any of the characters, largely because I felt I didn't know them well enough, even by the end of the book. There are a few throw-away characters who buy it almost before you realize they're just throw-aways. That's ok. It's the main characters I would have liked to feel more strongly about. Maybe the focus was too split. Maybe I read it too fast.

In any case, the slight shortcoming on the character front did not detract significantly from my enjoyment of the novel. On the contrary, the swift and easy flow of the narrative made this book a fun light read. And the climax at Pontchartrain Cemetery is... well it's just what you're expecting, which rounds things out nicely. If you're in the mood for a good light reading black magic horror, Voodoo Child may be just what you're looking for.

Copyright © 1998 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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