Review of Magic Street by Orson Scott Card

June 19, 2006
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Magic Street by Orson Scott CardMagic Street
By Orson Scott Card; read by Mirron E. Willis
11 CDs – 13.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0786178264
Themes: / Urban Fantasy / Fantasy / Shakespeare / A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Dreams /

Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street is an urban fantasy that links Shakespearean characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a middle-class black neighborhood in Los Angeles. Already not sounding like your cup of tea? Don’t scratch it off your list just yet. If Orson Scott Card wrote a book about a snail moving under a plant in a garden we would probably all marvel at the character development, be enraptured by the pacing of the story and how the plot develops and empathize with the moral dilemmas the snail must face! This excursion into urban fantasy, while not what we’re used to from Mr. Card, still gives us what we value in his writing.

Under inexplicable circumstances a boy named Mack Street is born into the world not yet alive and is immediately abandoned. Later found, he is raised by a couple of unlikely yet caring individuals. As he gets older Mack begins dreaming the deepest wishes of the people in his community. However, each time he experiences a “cold dream” the wishes invariably come true in a tragic way. Unable to understand the magic or speak to others about it, Mack keeps it a secret.

Then one day Mack discovers an entrance to fairyland. As he begins to interact with the magic of that world, his origin and purpose come into view. Mack and his community must act fast to guide events away from a tragic end.

The magic in the world is not explained until late in the story. The reader learns about it as Mack Street himself discovers the explanations. For me it was a bit taxing to go through so much of the story without being able to understand the meaning of the magical events, but the unfolding of the magic world is central to the story and, in a way, really facilitates identifying with the characters.

One of my favorite things about the book is the end. While the story intertwines itself with some of Shakespeare’s more light-hearted work, Magic Street is no comedy of errors. As the story reaches its climax it looks to be a tragedy of Shakespearean ilk. Disciples of the Bard can argue whether the ending is truly “Shakespearean” or not, but it concludes in a wonderfully complex way that leaves you feeling mournful of what was lost, but also that all is right and balanced.

It seems people either love or hate the story. Among the detractors are those disappointed to find the story departing from the genres they typically associate with Mr. Card. It certainly isn’t the fantasy of the Alvin Maker stories, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s an urban fantasy, and if you loathe urban fantasy you’ll dislike this book.

More critics, though, seem to focus on the racial issues. Mr. Card is not black and has written a story about black characters in a black community and does not shy away from discussing racial issues as he imagines them discussed among the characters. I don’t really know how to evaluate the validity of criticisms of how he approaches race, but I wonder what someone might think reading the same dialogue if they thought the author was black himself (I suspect they would be less critical). In any case the story is about people who are black and middle-class, and not about black, middle-class people. The characters are compelling because of what the reader shares with them as human beings, not because they are a case study of some part of Black America.

Mirron Willis was the reader for the story and did an excellent job. Among other projects he made a few appearances on ER as Detective Watkins, and on Star Trek: Voyager he appeared a couple of times as Rettik. Willis has won two Audiofile Earphone Awards and, coincidentally, he performs in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The synopsis on the back of the disc case dramatically reveals that Mack pursues “a forbidden relationship”. I think there must be a list of pre-approved comments to put on CD cases to entice people to buy it. I’ll wager that, as we speak, said list is attached to a dart board in someone’s office with a small hole in the words “forbidden relationship”, because it didn’t come from the story.

Magic Street is another story from Orson Scott Card that has been beautifully translated into audiobook format that is well worth your time.

Click here for an audio sample.

Posted by Mike

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