Infernal Magic is the first story in Christine and Nick's Demons of Fire and Night Series (i.e. C.N. Crawford). Its one of three individual series by the very well suited combined writing style at the time of this review - April 2nd 2017 (see also: The Memento Mori Trilogy; & The Vampire's Mage Series). Both the vampire and the demon series operate within the same universe, but they each focus around different aspects, the series names offering a clue as to which aspect. Locating crossover could be an interesting exercise akin to 'spot the difference' picture games, only in reverse of course; and having no suitability to kids games. I think I located one in Infernal Magic, but I won't spoil your fun in doing so should you choose to rise to the challenge. I will undoubtedly be reading their witch trilogy in future given my significant appreciation of the five (including this one) books that I've enjoyed so far. If you want to read my reviews on the current The Vampire's Mage Series releases the following links are for: Magic Hunter #1, Shadow Mage #1.5, Witch Hunter #2 and Blood Hunter #3:
The kicker that finds a footing right between your legs is the clause in contracts between demon gods and wayward souls that makes them binding, whether you remember making them or not. They remain perfectly valid no matter the situation: ask Ursula she knows all about it. Turning eighteen was never meant be so torturous. Its right up there with retrograde amnesia for all your conscious memories that came before your last three years of life. If that's not enough to put a dampener on the eighteenth birthday party that no one remembered to actually celebrate with you, then being smack bang in the middle of the war between two demon gods - those of fire versus those of night - ought to put the icing on the cake that was also forgotten. From that perspective Ursula imagines it to be similar to going to a dentist who forgets to administer anaesthetic before they start drilling or pulling on your ivory. Whoever thought up being drawn and quartered really should've been introduced to it before they so readily considered its application.
It's hard to say what's worse: working with some sort of fever on your eighteenth birthday at the bar run and owned by your ex- just to make the rent that's due in two days; or that to avoid getting sacked by said ex- you're pushing your fevered body through the crowd packed in like sardines, just so you can break up a fight between two meatheads over a scuffed shoe. A scuffed shoe, really? Surely she's not the only one to see the lunacy of that, or that it doesn't take only her feverish mind to perceive it the same way. The heat of pushing through shoulder to shoulder crowding so as to get through to break up the fight, the strain thickened by voyeuristic spectators looking for a cheap thrill, definitely wasn't helping her mounting inferno. The sweat that now dripped freely from her brow had to indicate that others were feeling it too, that she wasn't the only person succumbing to the sweltering temperature. At about the same time she got close enough to maybe make a difference, sufficiently more slurred digs had been slung to finally reveal what all bar brawls came down to in the end: a fight about some girl.
The spilling of beer all over the white top covering her lacy pink bra by the closest lunging brawler, burned away at her mounting anger to take it to the highest it'd been since the onset of some sort of fever she couldn't remember having ever felt before. Not that memories had proven infallible, a dreaded event now three years past reminded her daily of just how vulnerable they could be. Ursula's thoughts promptly narrowed down to the inferno of white hotness within her body about the same time screaming and flames started. With impossible grey smoke coming off her hands, her attention was initially distracted from the flaming shirt of the brawler now dropped and rolling to extinguish his ruined shirt. She'd only been trying to restrain him from a prison sentence for assault with a weapon. The busted bear bottle he'd been lunging with was now promptly forgotten, but that didn't mean he hadn't been trying to open some inebriated mate's jugular.
In the haze of confusion that revolved around the impossibility dawning in her addled brain, that her acknowledgement of her internal inferno had been immediately followed by the flames that had turned to streams of grey smoke rolling around and from her hands, Ursula's attention turned to a patron she couldn't believe she'd missed before. He waltzed through the crowd without a single rub of any shoulder. It was now only his intervention that halted burning shirt guy's call to the cops. With just a look from dazzling green eyes and a single sentence instructing the handing over the caller's phone and his departure along with the friend forgotten once the burning started, the patron swept in and took hitherto unseen control. Whatever his real job is he could certainly moonlight as a bouncer. Even the voyeuristic revelers seemed to be going back to whatever it was that they were doing before the fight broke out.
She felt but couldn't even begin to explain his look of recognition in his startling eyes, nor that she felt an inkling of her own. It hadn't just been her who'd ended up in slack-jawed amazement over what had just happened. Every other bystander had seemed to be doing the same before they turned away. But with the closing of his eyes it was like a spell had been broken, including the one over the crowd. At her use of the word spell, she had a mounting chill in her spine over recalling recent rumours around London that witches had been seen in some park where members of the general public were killed. She hadn't believed it then and nor could she now. Still, there was an otherworldly impression that settled in with her other observations. Unfortunately, the observation that gave the greatest chill upon her arrival back at the bar she'd been tending, wasn't in the end about any strangely appealing patron or broken spells. Nope, it was her ex- standing ready at the end of the bar saying they needed to talk about what happened. The last time he said they needed to talk he'd dumped her and told her she had no chance of making anything of herself, it still rankled perhaps even more now than when it was said.
If Ursula thought the early part of the day of her birthday was bad, she should've held her judgement off until the last parts began to take effect. Perhaps then she could've at least gotten some minute trace of enjoyment from it. Moping through her single room basement flat where her friend had dibs on the bedroom because of her larger contribution to the rent, only the last scrape of butter and some bread could be found in mockery of a dinner meal. It looked like her meal was going out in sympathy with the sad state of the rest of her day, and life. There was the freaky smoking hands thing and feral but still hot patron guy, which was wrapped up in a you're fired birthday cake that was absent the actual cake. Then there's the candles lighting her way because the electricity card has run out, plus the solo celebration on the day that was supposed to herald great changes. Although it had in a sense, but only in the same direction as much of the rest of her life has been - a downward spiral of bad to worse.
Before she got through her helping of bread and butter, though, the green eyed patron is noticed as standing in the frame of her unlocked doorway. Without so much as an explanation of the how, which could have only included the worrying signs of a stalker routine, he begins sprouting off about blood pens and signed contracts with satan. He insists it isn't satan but is some demon woman claiming to be a goddess of fire by the name of Emerazel, which might as well be the same thing. If walks and quacks and all that jazz. Her refusal of acceptance, citing arguments about her amnesia, rather promptly escalates to a fight with a guy who says he now has to reap her soul. Two words that should never be in the same sentence if you're wanting someone to comply are reaping and soul, surely he knows that right. Maybe all the signed soul contract fairies didn't teach at his school. His travelling salesman routine, no matter how hot he might've looked before he opened his mouth, must surely see him at the bottom of monthly sales targets.
The smashing of his arm, with the hefty skillet that'd been aimed at his skull, into two very distinctly separate pieces barely registers more than a growl. When she says growl she quite literally means that, a growl. Not that she's ever seen or heard any hounds that could growl in such a meaningful way. That's followed by a whispered language that rings with only the barest of recognition from Ursula-before-amnesia, but rather more bewilderingly it prompts the reformation of his arm bones. Like she needed anymore signs that her fight with this guy was a hopeless situation she never had the potential of winning, now she has to get more bloody pointers about this magic thingy. If she was still alive in the next ten minutes or so she should probably look more into the rumours circulating.
All the while he still manages to smile and find ways to bring into it that he'd prefer to have used her body for a much more pleasurable celebration of her age of majority. Its hard to comprehend which part is less able to be accepted, that he body might be used in said fashion, or that anyone alive still actually says age of majority. It's only on the precipice of his claws and fangs embedding in her throat that her still overwhelmed brain remembers the only thing she'd had in her possession when a fireman had pulled her from a burning church three years ago: a note penned in her handwriting, yes she'd tested it, which said that on her eighteenth birthday she'd need to say she opts for a trial.
Like so many other memories that came before that exact moment of awaking covered in ash and surrounded by fire, the creation of the note didn't exist either. Nor the reasons for it, which probably would've been much more helpful than the ambiguous piece of crud she'd written. Only its evidence had remained in a pocket, but because it'd been so obscure she had nearly forgotten it was meant for use today. The doctors that had come after the firemen and the physicians that had treated her minor wounds, had been the head shrink sort who'd explained that some differently structured memories still remain when people get amnesia. In her case they are procedural memories that gave her muscles and some instincts the knowledge of how to perform certain habituated tasks and gut reactions that preceded her amnesia. She could wield a sword with the clarity and skill of an expert who'd trained in the art form their whole life; she just didn't know why she had them. Those reactions had been all that had gotten her even this far. Of course she had no idea what requesting a trial meant, and her former self had embellished the bit about blacking out; along with every-bloody-thing else.
It wasn't the first and nor would it be the last time that it occurred to her that the girl who came before was obviously a bitch. At this stage she felt as though the things her instinctual reactions and procedural memories told her she was capable of were the only things from her past that would mean survival, however slim that likelihood is. The little voice in the back of her head had its own instructions, but she had already come to realise that she mighten be able to trust it. It does after all appear to come from the person who'd led to the destruction of her previous life. Not to mention what she was still sowing in her current life. In many ways, as long as her previous memories remained locked away, she's been forced into becoming two distinctly different people. So, fan-effing-tastic birthday and all round crappy wrap-up of a shitty three years of life. Who in their right mind would ever come to wish they could just go back to their poverty, unemployment and soon to be homeless life?
With only her recent sense of reality intact, what's real and what's not, the three years old Ursula's world comes crashing down on her eighteenth birthday. A macabre follow-up to what the first fifteen years of her life might've been like, if only she knew; or worse still, because she'd brought it all upon herself. Her current life threatening situation appears to have been caused by the first fifteen years version of Ursula. When the supernatural that's been provoking very recent rumours about its existence causes an influx of people looking to devour her soul, it becomes the natural instead. Even with a strange scarification symbol cut into the skin on her shoulder, the weird note a forgotten self had written to her future self (i.e. by Former Ursula or F.U.), and recent public witness and expose of events that couldn't be rationally explained by any scientific processes, she'd refused to believe in the existence of magic. Now she's not only forced to accept its premise, she's forced to accept that F.U. was not only aware, she was also in the thick of it.
It took considerable events to prove to Ursula that magic and the supernatural exist in this stimulating urban fantasy environment. Her attitudes and character development does exceptionally well in showing how the splitting of memories in amnesia sufferers essentially functions in ways that create a psychic splitting of the self. Because not all of the specific types of memories that exist can be neatly separated from contextual stimulants, people are capable of reacting to events in ways they have no specific recollection of why they do so. Even though she's wanted to reinvent herself in ways that have no relation to what's been forgotten, she can't for more than just one reason. Some reactions are physiological instincts and evolutionary hand-me-downs that seek to keep us alive and ensure correct functioning.
But others are habituated ways that no longer require any conscious effort in their expenditure; it's some of these forms that haunt her desire to recreate herself - forsaking the shit-storm that'd been scheduled to be called down upon her. Proof of the existence of behaviours without actual memory precipitation can be seen quite strongly in looking at both the ways babies complete certain tasks from the day they're born; and the way stroke victims can suffer brain damage in certain regions of the brain that control certain behaviours and yet victims can still carry out previous behaviours, or learn to do things even though that part of the brain is damaged. Memories conscious or not are extremely complex but integral in the development and maintenance of personality. Again using stroke victims, testimonials show countless examples of instantaneous changes in personality which can range from holistic to the most minimal. How we define ourselves is much more complicated than just the things we remember learning, seeing and doing, just as Ursula experiences her amnesia.
The brain is an endless maze of connections made, lost, changed, born, learned, and forgotten, and all without a perceptible start or finish. Just as humans think we've discovered one of its secrets, something else comes along that suggests we don't yet know half as much as we think we do and will never know half as much as we want to (a sage advice by a certain fictional professor who may or may not be associated with mutants wearing jumpsuits with enormous X's patterned into them). In Ursula's case the situation that gives rise to her differing understanding of herself has brought about a cognitive differentiation of the person she was, from the one who she is now, and from the one who she wants to be. All because for her former self she hasn't the actual memories that go with understanding why she was that person to begin with.
Frustratingly that person appears to have created the hardships she must face, and also influenced who she now is whether she wants to neatly segregate herself or not. But even that is too simplistic a notion because as long as she never remembers the things that led F.U. to making the choices she made, then she'll never know if they were correct or if more simply you they were fair. On the role of impartiality there's an inarguable cautionary dimension that to judge without context is to not have lived what led to it: a defining weakness in the commentary by the general public regarding the sentencing of lawbreakers, which is exactly why Ursula may be being too hard on F.U.
Getting back to her multiple selves in a different situation, one where the diagnosis of amnesia didn't precede the developmental splitting, she'd become more sanctioned and tainted by others because doctors would consider her to have had psychotic splits and multiple personality disorders, and the various other likes that society tends to frown upon. Not to minimise however the reality of her situation as it exists now, but merely as another cautionary tale that comes from this wonderfully complex character's life. This story has a considerable benefit of making you think about real world ramifications whilst being able to appreciate her pretty well adjusted acceptance, so it isn't all the doom and gloom that might turn some readers away. The poetic artistry inherent in some fiction stories is when they can entertain and provoke the imagination, all the while highlighting sensitive and provocative real world instances. Its the analogous aspects that can make some fiction all the more important than concerted study and debate.
Other technical features of the novel that come through loud and clear are the cultural markers of Ursula's spoken word, and some of the ways she thinks and feels. Regardless of the story stating her past three years as a Londoner, Ursula gives the impression of being raised as an English girl; even to my own sheltered Aussie ears. She's not so much fighting a fate or a destiny, common threads of many books, as she is fighting what she continues to learn as the person she is and who she was. That even in the face of amnesia its hard to leave behind who you are in order to become who you want to be. After three years of trying to become what she might want to be, who she was is coming back to bite her in the bum. Even then its unclear because the whole picture is still absent, with only presumptions being the fabric upon which to make judgements.
On top of that quagmire, Julia's circumstances in this time were also restricted themselves because of the social positioning of kids within some foster care environments and in poverty driven independence. These forces have amalgamated in the tieing of her hands behind her back. Whilst not a focus of the book the subtle clues of this impression are well recognised despite not being what the core storyline is about. From a technical standpoint its often the sublety that can work better outcomes because it prompts people into filling in the blanks themselves, which of course requires a certain level of thought, making it all the more effective than it might only be to having it spelled out for you. Its in some ways reminiscent of giving the hungry beggar a line and pole and teaching them how to fish rather than bringing them only your catch. Sometimes people will think more if you just prompt them into doing so by showing a path.
In the scheme of fantasy lore there's a usage of demon's from the perspective of their real names, further delineating the minefield of demon entities. In similar fashion two of the old gods are broken into factions using the eternal war said to have occurred therein before humankind ever graced the worlds with their existence. The fueling of the gods' power not being about human prayer and devotion or the sacrifice of other people is also altered into the less common powering of the gods by those who comdemn themselves (mostly - I'll leave you to see how that's not an all or nothing situation). The realms of darkness foci instead of a light versus dark, in the sense of good and evil, is also a welcome aspect. In keeping with the now more common message of magic being neither good or evil but just a tool instead, this is broadened into the basis of what the differing factions are about. This certainly has a better analogy of real life as it relates to good and bad: even the most pious can commit offences just as the least pious can commit graces.
People are never truly all black or all white. Everyone has some greyness in their past or yet to be in their futures. Its these above reconstructions that is a common element in the stories by Christine and Nick that makes the views and outlooks of the system within their novels so appealing. Rather than just adopting certain fantasy lore or being limited by just the unique inventions its the reconstruction plus some uniquely adopted schemas which allow a brand name to be developed that will undoubtedly one day be synonymous with the C.N. Crawford label - not that it isn't already, more so that after the respective number of years it can take for author publications to fully permeate the field theirs' will have a distinct flavour. If its not already obvious then from my own evaluation it's another homerun for me: five stars! And if for no other reason, those like the deeper and meaningful, then its an enjoyable urban fantasy romp with great characters and sequences in a universe rich in supernatural things.
- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 7 hours and 58 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.com.au Release Date: 13 December 2016
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English, English
- ASIN: B01MSYD6TZ
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,774 in Audible (See Top 100 in Audible)