The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was my first Harry Turtledove, and I've been wanting to read his works for a while, but mostly for the alternate histories. I eventually read this one, which wasn't one of those, because I got it from Netgalley as a reprint from the original title that came out in 1993.
It's an early Urban Fantasy. I loved the concept behind this world, where all religions are not only valid, but they have a certifiable presence and weight. Our main character is Jewish, and while I started getting excited at first that he might whip out some mystical Kabbalah to handle the problems of his ho-hum government job of investigating environmental spell abuse and leakages, he never did. Alas. Instead, we were at least treated to a Pratchett-esque humorous naming system that turned a spellchecker into just that: a spellchecker, identifying and reporting on spells in use in the environment. Okay.
Others were groanworthy, like ethernet, the network that runs on the ether, or virtuous reality, that lets people walk around on the Other Side behind a helmet with wires. They were cute, and there were a lot more, besides.
The feel of the story was like an average mystery, even though our hero works for the magical equivalent of the EPA. His love interest is right out of the 1950's sensibilities, strong but slightly looked down upon. Even the ideas surrounding native americans being not quite worthy to develop their own land was almost too distasteful to continue reading, but I chalked it up to the kind of feel that Turtledove was trying to evoke. So many of his novels were set in alternate WWII settings, after all, and nothing I read was out of place for that time period. I try to let it slide, but it did make me halt a few times.
The religions and monster mashups were pretty damn fun, all said. I was constantly reminding myself that American Gods hadn't been written yet, but I kept feeling the shadow of it on my reading.
Then again, I was also reminding myself that this novel came at the early days of Urban Fantasy before it got its own shelves and before it spread its wings. I was kind of left dragging along with the mystery, but at least the final action sequence was pretty fun.
The only other complaint I might have about the novel was the number of off-page action sequences that would have given the tale more depth and roundness. They even seemed a bit more interesting, after the fact, than most of the actual novel. I wanted to slap someone.
And speaking of slapping someone, I wanted to slap the main character for how he proposed to Judy. Or perhaps Judy should have done it for me. Seriously.
It wasn't a bad novel by any stretch. I have my issues with it, but it held together nicely. It can't hold a candle to many of the later Urban Fantasies I've had the pleasure of reading in the years since this was first published, but that's neither here nor there. In it's proper time and place it might have made a big impact on the scene. I don't really know.
As for me, the outdated worldview and the somewhat clunky treatment of the possibilities brought my scoring down.
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