Bantam, $4.50, ISBN 0-553-28999-3
Fantasy Romance, 1993
The Wizard of Seattle is one of Ms Hooper’s earlier “big books”, and it is a really fun read. It does get really ugly at times though. This is the story of two wizards falling in love even as they travel back in time – to Atlantis right before the giant toilet bowl in the sea flushes it down the drain – to discover the mysteries of the history of their kind.
In this world Ms Hooper created, wizards and humans live side by side, them wizards, of course, hiding their powers from us mere puny powerless mortals so that we mortals don’t get funny ideas like making them predict the stocks for us.
Serena Smyth is an orphaned teenage girl who knocks on the door of the very powerful wizard Richard Patrick Merlin one day. She wants to be his apprentice. He lets her in, and so they become master and apprentice. In every way, she is shaping up to be one of the most powerful wizards too. Cool. I’m envious. I still want the power to conjure real hundred dollar bills in at least 200 different currencies out of thin air.
Several events lead to Serena discovering a startling revelation: she is the only female wizard in the world. There were female wizards in the past, but there is something in the history books that hint of a great war between male and female wizards that led to this current sorry state. Richard is in trouble when word gets out that he is teaching a woman magic stuff, because apparently Wizards and Human Women (remember – Serena’s the only Magicked Woman in existence) don’t go together – unless it’s a sex thing, and only then it’s a matter of convenience. Or something.
Still, these two are halfway in love with each other already. Like a more proactive Romeo and Juliet, they decide to go back in time to find out why exactly do male and female wizards mistrust each other so much. Destination: Atlantis, pre-kaboom.
Atlantis is a nasty place, as male and female wizards, living in segregated societies, wage a brutal war on each other that involves rape and coercion. Richard and Serena find themselves stuck in the middle of the whole nonsense. Oh, what to do, what to do? Add to the fact that there is some weird natural phenomena that prevents wizards from casting spells once night falls, so we also have the usual “Ooh, ooh, night is falling, run, lady, ru-uu-uun!” scenes. Ooh indeed.
It’s fun. This story is also brutal and violent at places, and there is an unnecessary skanky sex thing that makes me wince. But what makes this story fun despite the whole silly premise of it all – the whole over-the-top battle of the sexes (each gender is waging a genocidal war on the other) – is our two leads actually becoming perfect allies as they try to, at first, figure out what is going on and later, try to just get the heck out of this sorry place.
On their own, Merlin and Serena are bland characters, especially Merlin, who is apparently so powerful, there is no sense of danger at all in the scenes he is in. What danger? He can do everything, you know. Serena is a better character, although her “red head and feisty” characterization is one for the stereotype encyclopedias. That scene where she not only kicks a potential rapist in the balls but also emerge like a triumphant Valkyrie in the process is just so cool. As a couple, Serena and Merlin bring out the best in each other – he becomes a protective Sweet Valley High Mr Nice Boyfriend, she becomes the feisty Nancy Drew with Magical Powers. They are so cute together.
But the biggest flaw of this story is the ridiculous portrayal of the battle of sexes. The bottom line, apparently, is that when men rule the world, they become wild, sex-crazed, and dumb brutes, while when women rule, everything is pristine, nice, and yes, frigid. Apparently a colony of women never have sex thoughts, while a colony of men have nothing but sex thoughts. It’s enough to make one ask for asexual binary fission to make a come back in evolution.
The ridiculous gender warfare is a pity, really, because underneath the whole magic trip, The Wizard of Seattle tries to address the issue of trust and how a heterosexual relationship needs both male and female to work together to build a happily ever after. Yin and yang, their differences complement each other, that sort of thing. The really, really melodramatic finale, however, leaves me staring at this book wide-eyed, wondering “What on earth…?” Sex with the wrong fellow can sink an island, apparently. You kiddies in those backseats of those cars, be careful.
But with a really nice beta hero who isn’t above flexing his biceps to protect his beloved, a heroine who is intelligent without being foolhardy, and a interesting plot (if marred in execution), this one showcases just what great read a fantasy romance can be in the hands of the right author. This book does feel a bit dated now that I am rereading it in 2002, especially that feisty redhead personality of Serena and the whole “college professor/brilliant student” feel of Serena and Merlin’s love story, but if you’re too lazy to scan the fantasy aisle to sort out the gloomy ones from the romantic ones, hey, The Wizard of Seattle may just be what you are looking for.