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Book Review: Digital Magic by Philippa Ballantine

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A war over water… in New Zealand. Internet technology kicked to the next level with implanted I/O sockets. A tourist attraction in the middle of England with more secrets than anyone knows. And a memorable cast of characters, who usually aren’t what we think they are. To say Philippa Ballantine’s book Digital Magic is subtextual is putting it mildly. And I absolutely loved it.

Readers of Ballantine’s previous work, Chasing the Bard, will recognize one major character right away, even though he’s not using the same name anymore. He’s a thief now, and right away we see that this book is about seeing what lies below the surface as he finds an antique mask that has something different about it. Something that reminds him of home, the home he left at the end of Chasing the Bard.

I actually started reading this book before I’d even started Chasing the Bard. After about ten pages, though, I knew I had to get the backstory. Chasing the Bard is still available as a podcast novel, or as a regular-format book at Amazon.com. I think you’ll still enjoy this book if you haven’t read Chasing the Bard, but parts will make much more sense if you have. It may answer a question or two as well (it did for me). And of course, the ending is satisfying, while leaving open the possibility (demand?) for a sequel.

The book is a “near future” type of science fiction/fantasy novel — its setting is certainly in the future, but not so far in the future that it was totally unbelievable. There’s plenty of magic in the book, but a fair amount of it is certainly digital magic — magic that’s made by technology. And it’s interesting to see some old familiar characters interact with that technology.

The descriptions in Digital Magic transport the reader in time and space; Ballantine does an excellent job, her strengths seem to be in knowing what to spend time describing, and what not to. Many writers have the former down pat, but struggle mightily with the latter. The characters are well written and believable, as they were in Chasing the Bard. Digital Magic is a wonderful book, but you won’t read this one as quickly as some others. Ballantine repeatedly has readers stopping to ponder what they’ve just read, trying to find out exactly what’s going on. And trust me — you won’t find out until the last chapter or two. Promise. But the wait and the patience are worth it. This isn’t a beach book, but it’s certainly a great book to curl up with on a rainy day, or even a sunny one.

Ballantine has teamed with fellow author Tee Morris in a promotional campaign for this book as well as Morris’ Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant. On August 8, 2008 (08/08/08), both novels debut at Amazon.com, and both authors are encouraging readers to buy them on that date to help both books climb the Amazon.com best sellers list.

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