Book Review: Simon Hawke’s The Wizard of 4th Street

And it’s time for another book review! This time around, it’s Simon Hawke’s The Wizard of 4th Street.

Hey kid, want some wizard candy?

This book was another used bookstore find- what caught my attention was the publisher, Questar fantasy. I hadn’t heard of Questar before- basic googling tells me it was an imprint of Hachette books. Given that I’d never heard of Questar before (and given that there was a whole series of these books, with titles like The Samurai Wizard or The Wizard of Santa Fe, I got a bit curious, and so I picked up the first one, The Wizard of 4th Street.

The back blurb on the book pitched it as a mashup of magic and modern day sensibilities, and that got me even more curious- the book was published in 1987 – could it be a progenitor of today’s Urban Fantasy genre?

Well, no.

See, the book is set in a world where magic has become the main source of power instead of, say, fossil fuels. It’s an interesting enough premise, but Hawke really doesn’t do anything with it. The world of Hawke’s novel is pretty much identical to ours, only airline pilots and train engineers and such are pointy-hatted wizards. I mean that literally- wizards and the like tend to dress vaguely medevially. Except…not many other people do. Heck, Merlin himself, who’s the source of the whole magic-renaissance, dresses in tweed like the archetypical English professor.

To be honest, this wasn’t a very good book. And the sad part is, it wasn’t entertainingly bad, as some things are. It was just…underwhelming. Thankfully, the book was short enough so it wasn’t too much of a slog to read through. Still, a quick rundown of the book’s flaws:

-The aforementioned boring setting.

-Boring central characters. The book centers around an apprentice wizard named Wyrdrune (well, that’s his wizard-codename- his real name is Melvin) and a street-thief-girl named Kira. And these two are terribly boring- not to mention pretty damn stupid. See, the plot revolves around them meeting when they steal a trio of McGuffins- er, sorry, magic gems. Only they’re really not good at thieving, or much of anything else, for that matter.

And the thing is? The book has a ton of other characters who actually were interesting! There’s

‘Merlin as an English professor,’ for one…and also ‘Morgan La Fey working for the magic-FBI,’ or ‘Mysterious art-collecting magic hitman guy,’ and heck, there’s even Detective Riguzzo, the dumpy NYPD detective assigned to tracking down Melvin and Kira.

Riguzzo gets particular props- he’s just a normal guy with no magic powers, but at the end of the book, while everyone’s doing flashy magic plot device bullshit, he just pulls his service revolver and guns down The Dark Lord Badguy. Bang. The end. This is awesome, but Hawke doesn’t make it as awesome as it should be.

-So, you know that bad guy? He’s pretty awful. And it’s not in the “oooh, I love to hate this guy!” sense, but rather, in the “y’know, this book is pretty racist” sense. See, there’s this dude named Rashid, who’s apparently Egyptian (or at least vaguely Middle Eastern), and he pretty much ticks off all the boxes for the “Evil Arab” stereotype. As soon as he shows up, the book mentions his 500-woman Harem, his legions of slaves- and pretty much any time he shows up, Hawke makes sure to mention his kheffiyah. Dude literally wears a Bad Guy Hat. And, of course, Rashid mind-control-rapes Kira over the course of the book, just to show how evil he is.

-Oh, and you know what else is hilarious/terrible? In the magic-fueled future, all the best magic artifacts (such as the MacGuffin-gems everyone wants) turn up in the cradle of civilization, the Middle East…which means we still have evil ethnic oil (err, magic) sheikhs like Rashid running around.

The plot to this novel is pretty shitty. Seriously, there’s the business with the MacGuffin-gems, and how Evil-Arab-Rashid wants to get them so he can release the Dark Ones or something. Fair enough- it’s just that the gems themselves have some kind of power over people, which means every time Kira and Melvin do something stupid (which is often), it’s pawned off as ‘the gems made us do it!’ or something.

-And on top of that, once you get about halfway through the novel, all of the major players have world-spanning teleportation magic, which means they just sort of bamf in and out of locations at random, occasionally punctuated by flashy magic BS.

-Why wasn’t this novel about Detective Riguzzo and Agent Morgan La Fey having adventures and shooting bitches again? Because that would be legitimately entertaining.

All and all, this was a bad novel. And the thing is, it’s not even entertainingly bad, in a balls-to-wall crazy-ass gonzo sense. At points, Hawke slants the novel as an outright comedy (the fact that the main character’s named Melvin, for example), but then there’s the matter of the horrible rapist bad guy, and his big evil explodey plan that kills hundreds of thousands of people (that is, before Riguzzo caps him). The book would have been a lot more memorable if Hawke had made up his mind and made it either a lighthearted comedy, or a dark and bloody adventure. By trying to be both things, it comes off as neither.

Then again, it’s as the old apocryphal saying goes: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

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