Stories about ordinary folks discovering their magic are usually a kind of wish-fulfillment. Harry Potter has an awful life before the letter from Hogwarts arrives, and he’s whisked away to a land where he gets friends, adventure, and cool stuff. The magic he learns lets him change and interact with the world in super-powered ways. But a lot of old fashioned stories about magic showed occult power having unintended consequences – hurting your loved ones, blowing up in your face, and generally being as helpful as a monkey’s paw. That’s the kind of magic which appears in Sharon Bayliss’s excellent new urban fantasy novel Destruction, and when it’s mixed up with the usual problems of raising teenage children, it leads to even more heartbreak and chaos.
Destruction is the story of David Vandergraff, a seemingly average Texas businessman with three children in various states of the teenage or adolescent experience. However, he learns that he’s got two children from another woman who vanished with their mother – until he gets a phone call revealing they’re in a children’s shelter after their step-father murdered their mother and sexually abused them. The knowledge of the affair ruins David’s marriage as he struggles to provide a home for his new children. Then it turns out that his two kids are wizards – and he’s a wizard as well, as is his wife and their offspring. Wizardry is a hereditary trait, and his wife, who came from another magical family, brainwashed him to make him forget his magical powers. The reason for that is simple – in the world of Destruction, magic is far more of a curse than a blessing. David and his children also happen to be Winter Wizards, another hereditary trait, meaning that they have dark impulses that they struggle to control. Dark magic, marital discord, and the usual problems of being a teenager all combine to challenge the Vandergraffs.
Bayliss deserves a lot of credit for balancing magical and domestic drama, while keeping all the characters sympathetic. David has three children – the lunkhead Jude, level-headed, well-meaning Patrick, and excitable Emmy and they’re all entranced with their newfound magical abilities, which often leads to problems. David’s two children from his affair, Xavier and Evangeline, are more cautious and wary, victims of the evil that magic can bring thanks to their abuse at the hands of their step-father. There’s also Samantha, a friend who is staying with the Vandergraffs and is revealed to be a witch herself, though she uses a more benevolent kind of Spring magic. Despite all the crazy revelations, David struggles to keep his family together and tries to be a good father. It all ends to a magical climax out in the harsh Texas desert.
The prose is a little simplistic, but fits the fact that most of the characters are just normal people – and the asides they have, occasionally mentioning Hogwarts or the wizards they know about from pop culture, also make sense and are frequently entertaining. However, I found the book’s climax – involving a wizardly battle – underwhelming, if only because the reader doesn’t get to witness it directly and has to hear it related second-hand. This is a poor way of conveying the action that such a momentous event deserved, and I hope that, if Bayliss wants to continue the series, she doesn’t skimp on the magical final battles in future installments.
But overall, I seriously enjoyed Destruction. The seasonal hierarchy of wizards is very interesting and I liked spending time with the Vandergraff Family and their world. If you want to a look at how magic can tear apart and unite a family, then Destruction will certainly cast a spell on you.