Werner's Reviews > Beware What You Wish

Beware What You Wish by Constance M. Burge
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Apr 05, 13

bookshelves: books-barb-owns, supernatural-fiction
Recommended for: Charmed fans, and fans of light supernatural reads
Read from March 30 to April 05, 2013, read count: 1

Though written by a different author, this tenth Charmed spin-off novel (they don't need to read in series order!) has a lot in common, in terms of style and tone, with the one I read earlier this year, Voodoo Moon. Gallagher, like Staub, is a professional writer; her extensive credits include adult and (mostly) children's novels, many of them in the supernatural and other speculative fiction genres, and several of them spin-offs of other series, this being her first Charmed book. At this point in the series, all three of the original sisters are still with us; Piper is now married to Leo (though he doesn't appear much in this book), but neither of their boys have been conceived yet.

The Goodreads description for this novel explains the premise correctly. The plot is unilinear; and Gallagher's prose style is workmanlike, clear and straightforward, moving the action along at a brisk clip, with the right amount of verisimilitude and a good feeling of camaraderie among the sisters. Unlike Voodoo Moon, this tale is set on their home turf, San Francisco; and the Florida-based Gallagher is much less adept than Staub in evoking any real sense of place, or even reproducing local geography based on research. For instance, the Gold Coast Amusement Park, which is a key place in the book, was apparently invented by the author --at least, I haven't been able to confirm its existence online. (To be fair, a sense of place was never a strong element in the TV series itself either, IMO.) She also makes less use of actual lore for her plot; the demonic spirit Athulak, his history, and his proclivities, were apparently made up for the book, and I suspect the same about the idea of a "spirit stone," though I wouldn't say it positively. But like the former book, this is a quick read; and it's equally free of sexual content and nearly as free of bad language. (Piper lets the d-word slip once, in a super-stressed moment of life-and-death jeopardy; but most of us would be inclined to cut her some slack there.) On the plus side, whereas in Voodoo Moon the sisters had considerable help in defeating the baddies (and wouldn't have succeeded or even survived without it!), here they're on their own, with no help but each other.

A minor flaw in the plotting is that the idea that Athulak's continued existence depends on the success of his main scheme here is not really a very obvious inference (which is why Gallagher hurries over it so quickly). More problematic is the political subtext. Our story takes place against the background of a contested election for an open seat in Congress, pitting Republican Stephen Tremaine against Democrat Noel Jefferson (the party labels aren't mentioned, but are obvious). Three carefully-chosen issues are mentioned: the environment, corporate responsibility, and campaign finances; and on all of them, Jefferson takes the positions that would appeal to most readers (pro-environment, against trusting corporations to police themselves, and against "soft money"), with Tremaine taking the converse stands on at least the first two. All the author's characterization skills are then employed to make the former come across as likable and the latter as unlikable. (The actual TV series largely eschewed any kind of politicking, to my knowledge, though there are some episodes I haven't seen.) Now, it may or may not be true that from a standpoint of literary realism, the idea of a contested election in San Francisco is about like depicting a contested election in Castro's Cuba; my impression is that GOP voters in the former would be, if not wholly nonexistent, certainly too scarce to mount more than token campaigns, though I could be wrong. But it's definitely true that this picture of the political process is simplistic to the point of absurdity. Our society faces an array of issues far more numerous than these selected three (many of which are complex, and evoke more than two possible responses!); and unfortunately, politicians don't line up neatly taking either sound and responsible positions on ALL of them, so they can be clearly recognized as "one of the good guys," in Piper's phrase, or taking all wrong positions so they can be identified as the bad guys. It's perfectly possible for candidates to hold all three of Noel Jefferson's positions, and to mix them with absolutely horrific stances on other issues; and vice versa. (Another point that seems to have eluded Gallagher, in this era where spin and "branding" has replaced substance, is that campaign rhetoric is often hypocritical; politicians who rail against "soft money" may be raking it in with both hands, and many of the "pro-environment" party's elected and appointed officials consistently push some of the most egregious assaults on the environment that have been proposed in this century.) The type of oversimplified, "us vs. them" distortion of political reality that's being promoted here does not, to put it mildly, contribute to the serious independent thinking and analysis, on the part of voters, that needs to happen for our political process to be part of the solution for problems instead of being one of the problems.

Nonetheless, most readers probably don't turn to Charmed novels as formative sources for their political and social philosophy. (If they do, they have serious problems. :-) ) Generally speaking, readers pick up this kind of book for light supernatural adventure with likable heroines, and the sure prospect of a happy ending. (With this type of book, that's no spoiler!) This one delivers exactly that, and I liked it on that basis.
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