Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Red Magician, by Lisa Goldstein

This week's review is going to be kind of short because the book I'm reviewing, The Red Magician is fairly short and more a novella than a proper full-length novel. Which as usual runs into some of the issues I have with shorter works, but I'll talk about that later. The Red Magician is a fantasy novel by Lisa Goldstein set in a small, Jewish village in Hungary in the 1940's. The main character, Kicsi, is a girl entering her teenage years and like all teenagers is bored with the life of the small village where she's lived her entire life and wants to see distant and exotic places. Kicsi gets a glimpse at life on the outside when she meets Vörös, a mysterious redheaded stranger who is able to do magic and comes with dire warnings for her family and the village at large.

Since this is a work of fiction about Jews in Europe in the 1940's you've probably inevitably guessed what's going to happen: Nazis. Surprisingly Kicsi's entire experience actually makes up a fairly small portion of the book. The Nazis themselves don't turn up until after the halfway mark and the last quarter of the book they're gone just as quickly. For a work of Holocaust fiction I thought Kicsi's experience and survival would be a much larger part of the work, instead of the fairly short amount of time it gets.

This ties, of course, into my inevitable complaints about novellas, which is that they're too darn short. That's really my main complaint with this book because there are a lot of cool ideas and Goldstein clearly draws on a variety of traditions to create a world rich with magic and mystery, but the result is it isn't terribly well developed. Even if this book's meant for a younger audience, which it very well may be, I think with the variety of ideas and concepts that Goldstein explores could be explored in greater detail without alienating audiences. I believe there may be other books that tie into this one and perhaps expand on her ideas further, but for the subject matter and the world that Goldstein presents this book just feels too darn short.

Overall the book is good and interesting and I recommend it, my main hang up with it is just the fact that it's too short. Which is a feeling I get after reading a lot of novellas. Maybe I'm spoiled by big long books that have time to explore issues in depth, but I'm also a voracious reader.

- Kalpar

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