The Saints Of Midland
by TL Schaefer, fantasy (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-502-0
Amanda Simms is not a happy woman. She returns home to Mariposa on Halloween night to take part in the rescue party that is looking for her missing brother Danny who, according to his girlfriend, walked into the woods to investigate some "real creepy noise" like the dunderhead he is and never came out. When the search party is disbanded due to the late hour, Amanda feels that she has to keep looking for Danny because... Well, she's some kind of witch with the affinity for the woods in which she explored freely as a kid and she now feels some kind of malevolent presence in the woods that may be a threat to Danny.
Imagine her surprise when she and hunky Deputy Josh Kent, who has joined her, find themselves meeting a strange presence in a clearing and Josh seems to know this presence as he addresses it as "the Keeper". The Keeper in turn calls Josh the "Chosen one" and Amanda the "Initiate". What is going on here? Amanda realizes that since this is Halloween, the boundaries between worlds have become thinner than usual and Danny has probably wandered into a different world because of this. The Keeper asks Amanda what she offers in return for passage into this other world. She offers a "part" of herself. And with that, she and Josh find themselves in a strange new world called Midland.
In Midland, at first there seems to be no sign of civilization apart from an English-speaking parrot. No, really, the parrot can speak English. And that parrot, Rick, sounds just like Sir Ian McKellan according to Amanda. According to Rick, Midland is something like an Astral Plane and by offering a part of her to the Keeper of the Way, Amanda is now a Chosen as well. As per her exchange, Danny is now back home but Amanda is going to have to remain in Midland and, with Josh, "free from Midland those incapable of forward motion".
It gets better - it turns out that Josh isn't even a real person. He's a ghost that only Amanda could see due to her abilities and he had up to then allowed Amanda to believe that he's the Deputy. He was one, but that was when he was alive, that is. It's not that he deliberately set her up to this, though, since he's also not certain what they have both gotten into. Josh has been looking for a way to Midland since his death in 1966, however, because Midland is a place where ghosts can make atonements before they can move on to the afterlife. Midland, therefore, is a land of ghosts. As for the prophecy, I'll just quote from the story:
“Prophecy claims the Chosen Two, an Earth-walker and a human, will meet, bound by the shackles of Earth, and be sent to Midland to free the lost souls by becoming one, by willingly sharing the same body, the same soul. They will overcome three trials, and in so doing, face their worst fears.”
The Saints Of Midland pits Amanda against this mysterious entity called the Mage and it is the first book in a planned series. While in a way this is a Very Special Heroine story with Her Special Love saving the world and what-not, the story fortunately isn't dependent on too many sex scenes to carry the day. It's the Magic Love and not Magic Vagina that saves the day, although I find this only a little better than the Magic Vagina thing, to be honest, because the whole Our Love Will Destroy Evil thing is still too cheesy for my liking.
Still, the world-building is most impressive here. Midland is a very interesting and well-drawn place. I wish Ms Schaefer has found a better way to dispense information though. There are only so many characters telling Amanda that they know things but they can't tell her before I want to scream in frustration along with Amanda. There is a very annoying The Matrix Revolutions-type aspect to this story where so many characters babble on and on but not really saying anything.
I find Amanda is pretty interesting heroine but she is handicapped by the fact that people around her tend to keep information from her just because they can. Then there is that subplot about Josh wanting to meet his dead wife Jillian only at the same time he's putting his hands and more on Amanda's body. That makes me shake my head, especially when Ms Schaefer turns poor Jillian into a convenient villain that allows Josh to freely fall in love with Amanda. This brings me to another thing: the way everyone in this story is related to Amanda in one way or another in some manner can be explained by destiny, fate, or something like that, but there are still a high number of such incidents to make everything come off as somewhat contrived.
The Saints Of Midland has a most interesting premise that is something like The Phantom Tollbooth meets What Dreams May Come, but the author chooses to reveal information only when it's convenient, which makes the story pretty contrived already, and therefore strings Amanda as well as the reader along for a frustrating trial of one's patience. I mean, seriously, if these people can't say anything, why can't they just keep their mouth shut and stay away instead of alluding to all kinds of things they won't reveal in detail? So, so annoying indeed. At any rate, now that the foundations of the world-building are laid out, hopefully Ms Schaefer will be able to tell a story that doesn't feel too contrived in future books in this series.
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