Tag Archives: fantasy

Review: The Wizardry of Jewish Women by Gillian Polack

I’m still reading only happy books for June, but a thing that made me happy recently was discovering that Gillian Polack’s The Wizardry of Jewish Women was getting a reissue with a new publisher!

The book was originally published by Satalyte Publishing, but not long after it was launched, the press had to close down. As the book was no longer available, I decided not to review it and frustrate anybody who wanted to get hold of it.

But now it’s available again as an e-book through Bookview Cafe, a cooperative publisher run by authors from across a range of genres. Bookview Cafe’s authors include Katharine Kerr, Vonda N. McIntyre and Ursula Le Guin, so you know they’re onto something.

I’m so pleased Wizardry is available again because I loved it. I’ve enjoyed Gillian Polack’s intriguing blend of the everyday and the magical before, in The Time of the Ghosts, Ms Cellophane, and The Art of Effective Dreaming.

The Wizardry of Jewish Women – the blurb

Pink tutus, sarcasm, amulets and bushfires: that is suburban fantasy in Australian cities. It is magic.

Life is never quite what it seems, even without the lost family heritage delivered to Judith and Belinda in boxes.

Judith (who owns the haunted lemon tree and half the boxes) wants an ordinary life. Mostly.

Belinda wants to not be so very worthy. If Belinda weren’t Judith’s sister, and if it wasn’t for bushfires and bigots, Belinda’s life would be perfectly ordinary. Judith will tell you so. You don’t even have to ask.

Belinda’s friend Rhonda has a superpower. Each time she sees the future or reveals deep secrets, seekers for the ‘New Nostradamus’ come closer to destroying her life. Her hold on normalcy is very fragile. So is her hold on safety.

Judith and Rhonda are haunted, Judith by her past and Rhonda by her gift of prophecy. Will they ever come into the sunshine and find happiness?

The review

The Wizardry of Jewish Women is primarily set, like The Time of the Ghosts and Ms Cellophane, in  Canberra. It seems an unlikely city, full as it is of bureaucracy, windswept suburbia and a reputation for Olympic Level Mundanity – but it’s one of Polack’s special skills to taken what seems to be a grey surface and fill it with subtle colour and disturbing undercurrents. It certainly makes me see my old hometown in new lights when I visit.

The story begins when Judith and her sister Belinda inheret a box from an apparently disreputable grandmother and discover a scrap book of hidden Jewish magic, recorded in a kind of hidden message. Their histories and their actions with the book’s contents are obscurely bound up with those of Rhonda, whose prophetic insights have turned her into a recluse.

Each woman faces domestic difficulties as well as wider threats, from the very real-world danger of Australian bushfires and oppressive exes, to the more creeping, opaque threats of lurking but tangible evil and the consequences of magic.

Polack weaves an inexorable web of subtle detail and slow reveals. What begins in humble Australian suburbia, populated with middle aged women who are agitated with where they are in life and the family and friends that surround them, has the oddness creeping in before long. Small strangenesses, fleeting discomforts, hints of threat and threads of something sinister build and build until protagonist and reader both are confronted with the need for action.

The Wizardry of Jewish Women is a fine example of Polack’s skill with this kind of world-building, taking us from intimate domestic life and troubles to the still-intimate peculiarities of her finely drawn characters’ intersections with magic and devilry.

Along with all the virtues of the writing and tone as a well-crafted piece of fiction, the book springs from an Australian experience that departs from the mainstream, inspired as it is by Polack’s own Jewish heritage and experiences. It’s woven from more diverse cultural threads than the usual Aussie milieu and offers a richer, deeper view of Australian culture and experience as a result.

Wryly humorous, very human and steeped in both suburbian realities and fantastical strangeness, The Wizardry of Jewish Women moves from quietly engaging to absolutely gripping before reaching its satisfying conclusion.

It’s a fabulous little book. You should read it.

Get The Wizardry of Jewish Women in Mobi or Epub formats at Bookview Cafe. 

New Release: And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales Volume 1

and-then-cover-onlyIn 2015, Clan Destine Press launched an Indiegogo fundraiser to create a fabulous anthology of rollicking adventure stories!

Just over a year later, on 31st December 2016, And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales Volume 1 sprang into the world, arms upraised, TA DAAAAAA! to be at least one good thing in 2016.

Clan Destine invited some of Australia and New Zealand’s best genre writers to be part of the anthology, and I’m very proud to have been one of them. In Volume One, I keep excellent company with so many people whose work I admire: Sulari Gentill,  Jason Nahrung, Alan Baxter, Jason Franks, Lucy Sussex, Amanda Wrangles, Evelyn Tsitas, Peter M Ball, Dan Rabarts, Kat Clay, Sophie Masson, Tor Roxburgh, Emilie Collyer and Tansy Rayner Roberts.

This volume contains 15 stories of adventures: each with two heroes, each with a touch of something Aussie or Kiwi about them – but otherwise set across different times and places, from Goldrush Melbourne to outer space.

And Then… is edited by Ruth Wykes and Kylie Fox, with title page illustrations by Vicky Pratt and cover art by Sarah Pain

My story, ‘Virgin Soil’, teams a young man with magical powers with a shapeshifter, a man-turned-rat (or vice-versa; he doesn’t remember how he started). Some people might think they’re black magicians, and possibly they are, but someone has to do the dirty work, even on the side of the good guys. It’s set in 1851 during Melbourne’s gold rush years and involves virgin sacrifice – but maybe not the type you’re thinking of.

An excerpt from Virgin Soil:

Rain had made a mud creek of Queen Street, and the blighted stuff stuck like tar to boots of toff and toiler alike. All these thousands milling off the ships at the wharf were no ruddy help either. Sooner the fools were all off to Ballarat for the diggings, the better; or it would be, if there weren’t thousands more on their way, just as foolhardy.

Lucius wove in and out of the crowd, as mud-footed as the rest and more threadbare than most. He darted between the shifting bodies, dodging low to look under elbows and past waists, or stood on tiptoe trying to see over shoulders, and much luck to him, little titch that he was. Finally, he caught sight of his quarry. He shouldered between a burly blacksmith with his knapsack and a Chinaman late arrived from California’s Gold Mountain in pursuit.

‘Oi, Cato,’ said Lucius, coming up shoulder-to-shoulder with his wiry mate, ‘Put it away, eh?’

The accosted Cato, as grubby and as threadbare as his friend, raised an eyebrow at him, his clear blue eyes all bemused, until Lucius jerked his head at Cato’s rear endage, and at the long, slender, and slightly scaly tail that hung down low enough to be seen under Cato’s  weathered Dutch pea jacket.

‘Oh, go to,’ Cato cheerily scolded his tail. He wriggled and the tail disappeared, not only from under the jacket but back into his actual flesh, ‘Alas, I forget to reel the whole in, sometimes.’

‘Well, it is a handsome tail,’ Lucius observed. His eyes were also blue, and sometimes he and Cato were mistaken for brothers, though there was no blood and 260 years between them. Yet they were brothers enough.

Cato plucked at Lucius’s sleeve. ‘There’s the fellow.’ He nodded at a strapping young lad of 19 or so standing with his whiskered father, directing the unloading of goods from The Lady Jane, new arrived from the old country, that had something more useful than gold-diggers on board.

‘Aye,’ breathed Lucius, head close to Cato’s, ‘That’s our virgin lad. It’s a shame. He seems a good chap.’

Fourteen people nearly trod them into the mud for standing still, so they lifted their heels and went with the stream a little way, till they could draw aside into the relative stillness of a cart awaiting a load. One of the horses blew a raspberry with its big hairy lips and gave Cato an affronted look, but horses never paid him much mind. Dogs were another matter.

‘If he is a good fellow,’ said Cato, his lips pursed in a way that made his whole face sharp, ‘Then he would not begrudge his sacrifice for the greater good.’

Lucius scowled, unimpressed with the argument. ‘And would you go whistling to your doom for such nobility?’

Cato, who had tried to do so once or twice, pushed his cheek against Lucius’s shoulder and rubbed. ‘There, there, my Luke. The deed must be done.’

‘I know. Don’t have to like it, though.’

Get And Then… (ebook)

Paperback coming soon, as is Volume 2 in due course.