Wild, Dark Times by Austin Case

Front cover of Wild, Dark Times by Austin CaseCase filters Abrahamic dualism through the lens of post-modern subjectivity to create a religious thriller that both relies on artists rather than academics and treats the mystery at the heart of things as genuinely magical rather than merely political.

Elizabeth Megalos works as a bank teller in St. Louis, another art-school graduate who gave in, copped out, and joined the system. However, when a previously overfriendly colleague almost kills her in an feral rage, only for a man claiming to be a sorcerer to save her, she discovers that adult life is a mask over a more brightly coloured world; a world that allegedly includes her being the key to defeating an ancient near-god from obscure Christian mythology before it ends the world.

While the core of the plot is almost pure gnostic Christianity, the route it takes is decidedly more syncretic, layering Native American, Mayan, and other mythologies—traditional and modern—over a framework of cyclical time common to most Western paganisms.
While Case does both draw upon postmodern magical theories of acting as if something is true being more important than its truth, and have more rational characters mention the apparent conflicts, smoothing the joins without ignoring the issue, his mixing of multiple paradigms and mystical styles may irk readers who prefer the challenges of magic to be more predictable.

Case reduces the nebulousness of this “anything imaginable might be possible” universe by narrating some scenes from the perspective of a scientist in thrall to the apocalyptic forces; thus, while the actual trajectory of the events remains subject to unexpected alteration, readers have signposts of where some obstacles might be.

Despite the narrative viewpoint being that of a twenty-first century Westerner, with the starting point of Abrahamic faith and Graeco-Roman logic that pervades it, Case strives to avoid exoticism in his forays into non-Western metaphysics, granting them—if not equality of page time—a sense they would be an equally valid primary image of wider reality if the plot were not based around so quintessentially an Abrahamic myth.

Case’s prose style can be divided into two distinct parts. His description of “mundane” matters inclines toward the objective over the emotive, giving some paragraphs—during the opening chapter in particular—a subtle flavour of a statement rather than the experience of events. Conversely, his description of the “mystical” foregoes strict rules of grammar in favour of shifting hypnogogic imagery that resembles the pronouncements of Edward Kelley or the stream-of-consciousness of James Joyce. Although this contrast strengthens the feeling of magic being other than so-called reality, and the prose is not confined to extremes, it might make the book less accessible to some readers whose preferences sit toward either end of the reportage vs. immersion spectrum.

Elizabeth is a sympathetic protagonist, carrying enough normality from her previous life that her sceptical reaction to mystical truths seems plausible, yet open enough to magic that readers are unlikely to become irritated at her refusal to change her mind in the face of evidence.

The major supporting cast are an interesting mix of sceptics and magicians of various styles, each with a personality that aligns with their metaphysical viewpoint without being perfectly aligned with it. This creates a tension between their potential ability, their conception of what is possible, and their desires.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking an urban fantasy or theological conspiracy thriller where the mythological themes are firmly at the heart of the plot rather than set dressing or flavour.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.

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