BOOK REVIEW: Lisa Goldstein’s Walking The Labyrinth & 2014 Year-end 

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Well, you’ve had a whole day now to get used to the idea of writing or typing 2015 instead of 2014. So Happy New Year to all of you! I’m typing this on New Year’s Day, but you won’t see this until tomorrow, January 2nd (or third, if you’re across the dateline). We had fireworks going off practically outside our bedroom window at midnight last night, and lots of people yelling, so we didn’t miss anything by going to bed fifteen minutes before midnight.

Figure 1 - Lisa GoldsteinPhantasmagoria: phan·tas·ma·go·ri·a (n)
ˌfanˌtazməˈɡôrēə/
a sequence of real or imaginary images like those seen in a dream.

What a phantasmagorical read Walking The Labyrinth is! Although Lisa Goldstein has been writing fantasy for years, and won a National Book Award for The Red Magician, this is my first Goldstein read; fair warning, I got this one for free as a review book (Kindle format; yes, there are Kindle review copies!). It’s not a new book, however. The original hardcover was published in 1996, but the publisher, Open Road Media, is now bringing out Lisa’s backlist, and you—yes, you!—can get this right now from Amazon for under $2 ($1.99 on Amazon.ca; $1.71 on Amazon.com)!

Unlike The Red Magician, which I believe was a YA book, this one is a contemporary urban fantasy, but if you’re looking for fairies in brownstones, or anything like what Charles de Lint puts out, this isn’t it. While there is magic (or maybe even something like ESP, though that’s never mentioned), there are no fairies. The magic may or may not be derived from something called the “Antient and Secret Order of the Labyrinth,” or that Order may be derived from the magic. Let’s explore, shall we?

Figure 2 - Walking The Labyrinth Kindle cover
Figure 2 – Walking The Labyrinth Kindle cover

In the book’s prologue, a reporter named Andrew Dodd attempts to review a family of magicians after a performance at Oakland’s (California) Paramount Theater (Figure 3) in 1935. Invited backstage by one of the performers, Callan Allalie and his sister Thorne, Dodd is quickly drawn into a web of mystery and dazzlement by the members of the Allalie family, who claim their family has been performing magic for centuries. Perhaps confused by the champagne foisted on him by Corrig Allalie, Dodd somehow manages to make his way to his hotel room and fall asleep on his bed fully clothed; when he awakes the next morning, his notebook contains only the questions “Lies?” and “Truth?” The rest is blank.

Chapter one introduces us to Molly Travers, professional temp worker, who keeps her options open by taking various typing and filing jobs in 1995 Oakland; leaving her office building for lunch, she is accosted by a man named John Stow, who claims to be a private investigator, searching for her aunt, Fentrice Allalie. Although he appears to be a bit seedy, he has a P.I. license, and says Molly’s aunt may be the beneficiary of a small bequest, and he wants to ask Molly some questions about Fentrice. It is here that Molly first learns of her family’s performing background, and sees the clipping of Andrew Dodd’s mostly made-up review of that 1935 performance (since we know he neither has notes nor can remember much of that particular evening). This meeting with John Stow will put Molly Travers on a particular path of discovery about her family that will change the course of her life.

Figure 3 - Paramount Theater front today
Figure 3 – Paramount Theater front today

Because of Stow’s interest—and Molly’s distrust of him—she learns that she is the granddaughter of Callan Allalie; orphaned very young, she has been raised by great-aunt Fentrice in the Chicago area and, through a number of discoveries of various publications and private journals (diaries) begins learning about her family, including the mysterious Thorne, who may or may not be Fentrice’s sister.

She discovers, through a pamphlet found in a trunk at her aunt’s home in Chicago, the “True and Antient Order of the Labyrinth,” written in 1884, that her family, the Allalies, were members of this Order, which appeared—at least from the pamphlet—to be another of those mystical wannabe spiritualist societies that sprang up in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The labyrinth Molly begins walking here is the twists and turns of her family history. We also learn of her love for Peter Myers, a man who earns his living writing quickie biographies of famous people; who makes his money off scandal and sensation, not caring who he hurts… and we also see, although she can’t see it, that he doesn’t really care for Molly. It’s an old story of a user and the woman who cares for him, not seeing him for what he is.

Although there are a couple of modern Labyrinth societies, they’re mostly made up of people interested in mazes and labyrinths. (As you will no doubt remember from your World History classes in high school, the original labyrinth was on the island of Crete, ruled by king Minos, and was—at least in myth—inhabited by a bull-headed beast called the Minotaur, who ate Cretan maidens. The Minotaur was killed by Theseus, who followed a ball of yarn to the centre of the maze (labyrinth) and found the Minotaur.) There is also a rumour that the Masons’ Order of the Eastern Star (ladies) is somehow related to an Order of the Labyrinth. Since I’m not a Mason I can’t speak to the truth of that. Check out The Labyrinth Company, too. Lots of people seem to be interested in labyrinths.

Later we learn that there was an actual labyrinth, built in England (from whence came the Allalie family in the 1930s, before their entrance into the wonderful world of vaudeville in the US) by a Lady Westingate, who later became penurious and lost her home. Throughout the book, there are enough twists and turns in Molly’s life to make it seem a maze itself; a recurring theme is what the Allalie family seems to have been all about, even when performing: teaching one about oneself. The question “What have you learned?” keeps popping up. Various threads, none that seem to lead Molly either out of or to the centre of this particular labyrinth, keep appearing and disappearing: who is Thorne? Is there actual magic involved in the Allalie family and/or the Order? Who were Molly’s parents? Like Dodd’s encounter with Callan, Thorne, Carrig and Fentrice in 1935, Molly’s experience with her own family seems quite phantasmagorical, and at times she doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Consider the family name, which could be deconstructed to read “All a lie”!

(The Paramount Theater, by the way, is almost a character in this book as well, which—considering how over-the-top beautifully decorated it is—I found rather fitting. I’m a big fan of certain kinds of over-the-top, rococo, kitsch, Art Deco, and so on, as it pertains to architecture.)

Figure 4 - Minotauros Greek Sculpture
Figure 4 – Minotauros Greek Sculpture

I actually enjoyed reading this; it’s a quick read, even though you have to keep track of a number of family members and events; it’s well-written enough that you also keep wanting Molly to open her eyes and see Peter for who he is. If I have any beef at all with the book, it would be the validation, which seemed a bit weak to me. (The “validation,” at least according to Dean Wesley Smith, is that part at the end of the book that lets the reader down easily, referring back to the beginning of the book in some way to show that it’s all over now. Similar to the “freeze” or “laughter” scenes made fun of by the show Police Squad, with the late, great Leslie Nielsen, at the end of many TV episodes.

Especially at this price, I heartily recommend this book to the lover of urban fantasy.

MY YEAR IN REVIEW—A look back at the previous six months plus. (Wha…?)

Well, this is column number 81; since column* number 52 was a look back at my first year’s full list (more or less) of entries, I don’t have to go any farther back, y’see. I hope that makes sense: if you want to look back any more, just look at number 52, which has at least six months’ worth of the previous entries. If you haven’t read any or some of them, I urge you to catch up on whatever looks interesting. You might find something you like!

12/26/14       #80      https://amazingstories.com/?p=61347        Artists’ Christmas Cards
12/19/14       #79      https://amazingstories.com/?p=60989        Eric Flint’s 1632 & The Grantville Gazette
12/12/14       #78      https://amazingstories.com/?p=60621        3D movies & TV
12/05/14       #77      https://amazingstories.com/?p=60291        Book review: Stephen King’s Revival
11/28/14       #76      https://amazingstories.com/?p=60002        Spider/Terri Robinson and movie review: The Expendables
11/21/14       #75      https://amazingstories.com/?p=59606        Book review: William Gibson‘s The Peripheral
11/14/14       #74      https://amazingstories.com/?p=58858        The Good Old (Game) Days
11/07/14       #73      https://amazingstories.com/?p=58766        Who’s Your Favourite Superhero? (Part 2)
10/31/14       #72      https://amazingstories.com/?p=58083        Who’s Your Favourite Superhero? (Part 1)
10/24/14       #71      https://amazingstories.com/?p=57740        Movie tie-in Pins & Buttons (and other types)
10/17/14       #70      https://amazingstories.com/?p=57463        Book review: Randy McCharles‘s The Necromancer Candle
10/10/14       #69      https://amazingstories.com/?p=57055        VCON 39 report
10/03/14       #68      https://amazingstories.com/?p=56488        Movie review: Space Station 76
09/26/14       #67      https://amazingstories.com/?p=56067        Reviews: A David Gerrold short story, a Terry Goodkind book, a movie
09/19/14       #66      https://amazingstories.com/?p=55424        Book review: Scott Robinson’s 1/27–The Beatles’ #1 hits
09/12/14       #65      https://amazingstories.com/?p=55166        Book reviews: John Shirley‘s Doyle After Death & Wyatt in Wichita
09/05/14       #64      https://amazingstories.com/?p=54768        Book review: Nina Kiriki Hoffman‘s Catalyst
08/29/14       #63      https://amazingstories.com/?p=54386        Book and movie reviews: Hugh A.D. Spencer’s Extreme Dentistry and Only Lovers Left Alive
08/22/14       #62      https://amazingstories.com/?p=53935        Movie review: Divergent (and an old Stephen King TV movie, Desperation)
08/15/14       #61      https://amazingstories.com/?p=53451        Book review: Gardner Dozois‘s Year’s Best SF
08/08/14       #60      https://amazingstories.com/?p=52895        Movie review: Under The Skin w/Scarlett Johansson
08/01/14       #59      https://amazingstories.com/?p=52446        Classic movie review 2: Destination Moon
07/25/14       #58      https://amazingstories.com/?p=51876        Movie review: Transcendence
07/18/14       #57      https://amazingstories.com/?p=51348        Movie review: Sharknado!
07/11/14       #56      https://amazingstories.com/?p=50879        Movie review: The Lego Movie
07/04/14       #55      https://amazingstories.com/?p=49599        Classic movie review 1: Forbidden Planet
06/27/14       #54      https://amazingstories.com/?p=49536        Book review: Stephen King‘s Mr. Mercedes
06/20/14       #53      https://amazingstories.com/?p=49476        Movie review: X-Men: Days of Future Past
06/13/14       #52      https://amazingstories.com/?p=49042        My Year in Review: A look back at my first full year!

*N.B.: As Loren MacGregor has pointed out, since this is not published on paper, and is actually published on the web, it’s a blog entry. I plan to just call it a column from now on, to save time and effort. If you wish to substitute “blog entry” mentally whenever I type “column,” please do.

I would appreciate any comments on this week’s column. If you haven’t already registered—it’s free, and just takes a moment—go ahead and register, and then you can comment here. Or, you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. I might not agree with what you say, but comments are all welcome, so don’t feel you have to agree with me to say something. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!

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