Cabal, 1989 ed., Clive Barker
That period where all the bookstores were embarrassed to carry horror novels and the covers all started to look like…this…that was a tough one.

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When the episode opens with a creepy magician (with a not even remotely appropriate Orientalism gimmick) slipping a roofie to a groupe, you know we’re in for a doozy. This is Fateem the Magnificent, and he’s got this trick where a dozen swords slam into a cabinet. But he’ll be safe, so long as he’s got someone in a different cabinet, who’ll take the damage instead. Hence the roofie. It’s okay, though, because after the show he totally gets killed by the contraption when someone (almost certainly not his conspicuously out of frame assistant) sets it off as he’s starting to pack it away. In a nightclub that is totally not just the show rehearsal space with some tables and backcloths put out to disguise that fact.

Three months later, in an undisclosed part of Not Canada, the Curious Goods gang are reading about the death of Fateem the Magnificent. Jack, who of course used to be a magician, remarks that no one could ever figure out how he did his death-box-knives trick. The article mentions Fateem’s real name, which of course all three remember seeing in the manifest of evil antiques, in this case the Houdin (yes, that’s right, no i) Box. Mickey and Ryan get dispatched to talk to Fateem’s assistant, who almost certainly didn’t kill him, while Jack goes to talk to other magicians in the (legally distinct from The Magic Castle) Temple of Magic.

Mickey and Ryan get nowhere with the disgruntled assistant, learning only that Fateem’s gear was auctioned off, though the assistant does make a call warning someone of people asking about “the box” after they leave. Jack, meanwhile, learns that the Temple is hosting a reality show competition to find the best magician, and the gang realizes that if anyone has a cursed box that lets them to magic tricks, they’re probably going to show up for that. The presence of a particularly arrogant magician calling himself The Great Montarro, when he’s not berating his daughter, convinces the gang that they must infiltrate the show. Once there, Ryan learns that Montarro’s cabinet looks an awful lot like Fateem’s, a female magician with a gypsy theme is sliding notes under people’s dressing room doors, and the show gofer is spying on Jack’s escape trick rehearsals, so we’ve got no shortage of suspects.

The gang splits up some more and learns that someone is blackmailing Montarro and there is no trick release for his cabinet, so the only way for someone to survive the trick is by using an antique. Then, in a giallo-esque scene, a black-gloved figure sneaks into Jack’s room and sabotages his escape trick. Unsurprisingly, in rehearsal, the trick goes awry, and the gofer, having locked Jack in the closet to steal his chance at the show, dies on a bed of spikes. In the confusion, the gypsy magician, who turns out to be Fateem’s assistant in drag, is found in the dressing room, hung. Which pretty much, and unsurprisingly, brings us back to Montarro as our only suspect. Mickey goes to warn Motarro’s daughter, only to get locked in the Houdin Box when it, amazingly, turns out that the daughter is actually the one using the box to make her father look good and she’s been the one behind all the deaths. Luckily Jack and Ryan are able to save her just in time for Montarro to be graphically impaled on live television.

We’ve got another sort of lack-luster episode here. Thematically the antique this time around isn’t very engaging, because a magician’s box just isn’t that scary, and lacks the “familiar but twisted” feel many of the creepier antiques have. The plot is also needlessly complicated, especially when it all circles around to the very obvious suspect, even with the very obvious “twist” to the identity of the real villain. And, for once, when an episode would have called for an interesting set-piece, most of the action takes place very obviously on barely disguised sound-stages.

A Very Robey 80s

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Midnight’s Children, 1991 ed, Salman Rushdie
It is possible to write a good novel about super-heroes. You just have to make sure that none of the characters are super-heroes.

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Yes, that’s really the title.

It’s Halloween, and Mickey, Ryan and Jack have had the brilliant idea of hosting a neighborhood costume party in the antique store. Because surely nothing bad can come of having a bunch of people in masks running around and fiddling with antiques cursed by Satan. And in case anything bad does happen, Ryan has helpfully placed a “Do Not Touch: Evil” sign on the vault. While Mickey and Ryan debate the sense of this, Jack is busy copping feels from women by the punch bowl, and honestly, after the frat house incident, why did anyone let Jack near a punch bowl? And then some of Ryan’s friends go to the basement, fiddle with a glowing crystal ball, and summon a g-g-g-ghost!

After a brief exorcism, Jack gets lured outside by a lost little girl, who traps him in an alley before revealing herself to be a Sinister Dwarf, because, yeah, that particular trope was probably inevitable on a show like this. Meanwhile, Mickey and Ryan are visited by the green-screened ghost of Uncle Lewis, who technically neither of them ever met, so his passive-aggressive comments on their lack of enthusiasm to see him fall somewhat flat. Lewis, who now inexplicably has a vaguely Southern accent, claims that he has returned from Hell to undo the curse. Lewis says that if he can atone for the murder of his wife, the curse will be lifted, though he will remain trapped in Hell. Lewis shows them a secret door hiding a tastefully decorated bedroom and the preserved corpse of Grace, killed by Lewis’ “ambition,” whose soul can be freed by the Amulet of Zohar, conveniently in the vault. After lamenting how unlucky it is that Jack isn’t there to tell them whether trusting Lewis is a good idea or not, Mickey and Ryan are utterly shocked when this whole thing turns out to be a trap set by Lewis, who plans to use the Amulet to take a new physical form.

While Jack escapes from his trap, Mickey and Ryan figure out that Lewis must find a corpse that died by peaceful means by sun-up in order to escape Hell. (Though, to Lewis’ credit, when pressed on whether he’d prefer a male or female body, he’s utterly indifferent, so good on the murderous Satanist for trans-positivity.) Mickey and Ryan track Lewis and the Sinister Dwarf to a mortuary, but are unable to trick the two supernatural beings and end up being placed in death-traps, and Lewis’ ceremony begins. Jack eventually shows up to save them, and explains that if they can distract the demon, he can delay Lewis long enough for the spell to fail. The distraction mostly consists of them running away and then the demon conveniently impaling herself on some broken furniture, and the delay comes in the form of a stopped clock tricking Lewis into thinking he had more time in a move not totally cribbed from some Dracula movie. Everything ends well, until Jack ominously reminds everyone that it will be Friday the 13th in two weeks.

This is actually one of the weaker episodes. Much of the plot involves characters either being trapped or chasing after someone, and pretty much none of it actually gets moving without all the characters acting like complete idiots. The suspiciously yonic rabbit Amulet as the source of the evil feels tacked on as just an excuse for magic this time around.

A Very Robey 80s

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Throne of the Crescent Moon, 2013, Saladin Ahmed
A really phenomenally strong sword-and-sorcery throwback fantasy novel that feels fresh and engaging because it takes the core of that genre and throws out all the cliches and creates something new from it.

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