If there was a prize for most misleading blurb, this book would win it! I’ve mentioned before how Pike’s books tended to be marketed as teen horror (that being what he was best known for) even when they weren’t. In the three of his books I’ve recently re-read – Remember Me, The Starlight Crystal and Sati – there is a spiritual vein which the publisher downplayed. Magic Fire is no different in this respect. In the blurb there is absolutely no hint of what the book is really about:
‘Mark Charm is a pyromaniac. He’s loved fires ever since he was a kid. Now he’s in high school, and he wants to see the magic one more time. It’s a dry autumn in Southern California and the desert winds are blowing. Mark sits, late at night, a box of matches beside him – would it be so bad, he thinks, if the whole state burned?’
High school horror story about a twisted guy who starts fires? No. Science fiction romance set in the near future (well, 2010) influenced by Philip K Dick, Star Trek and Ray Bradbury? Yes. How stunned I was when I first read this book in 2002, when it quickly turned into something so unexpected that years later I still remembered it.
In the first chapter, Mark is watching a girl he’s in love with, Jessa, acting in the school play. They end up flirting and he thinks he has a chance with her. Then he visits his terminally-ill mother in hospital and afterwards burns a posh house to let out his feelings. From the second chapter, things get weird. Then weirder. If you intend to read the book, and you like to be surprised, then don’t read any summaries or any more reviews. I hope I haven’t already spoiled the book for you by saying it doesn’t match the marketing and that the story is bizarre, but I feel you should at least be warned.
I like the twisting nature of the book and that trademark Pike conciseness. I have to admit, it’s not one of his best. It even seems hastily edited, as if he was getting to the end of his contract and neither himself nor the publisher cared much about the quality of the book.
First published in 1998.