BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: The Ledberg Runestone


Title: The Ledberg Runestone (The Jonah Heywood Chronicles Book One)

Publisher: Diversion Books

Author: Patrick Donovan

Pages: 254 pp

Price: $14.99 (paperback) / $4.99 (ebook)

Jonah Heywood is a shaman for hire. Able to tap into the inherent energy of all things -- but especially plants, herbs, and stones -- he'll perform just about any paranormal job for the right price. Unfortunately, in this day and age, not many people still believe in the paranormal, so Jonah has been forced more than once to fake a haunting just to get called in for the exorcism. He's not proud of himself, but a man has to eat. Or, in his case, drink. A lot. Jonah tried to be a hero once, and the nightmares still follow him around. So he drinks. And there he is, at his favorite watering hole, minding his own business, when a woman walks in and offers him a job he should really, really refuse ....

I love urban fantasy. I'm sure I've written that before. As such, when I found The Ledberg Runestone and discovered that, not only is it urban fantasy, but that it is set in one of my favorite cities, I had to read it.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Jonah Heywood is an appealing, if not always sympathetic, character. I spent a good portion of the book wanting to smack him for being a self-pitying drunk, and the other half empathizing with his pain. Life has not been kind to Jonah. Sure, he has these awesome abilities -- but most people think he's a fraud. His sister supposedly committed suicide when she was twelve, but Jonah knows what really killed her, and he will never be able to get justice for her. His mother (from whom he probably inherited his abilities) ran off after his sister's death. Gretchen, the powerful shaman who took him in and trained him, died after absorbing the cancer that was killing his father. And then there was that one time he tried to be a hero, and he is now convinced that he's no good and he should just leave the hero business to others.

So, yes, Jonah has a lot of baggage, and the theme of his recovery and redemption runs through the whole story. And he certainly has a strong support network, if he can just bring himself to trust them. Like Melly the bartender; and Sam, who runs a shelter/gym for homeless kids; and Gus, the paranoid hacker/fence; even his father, who knows there is something going on with his son.

The world building and magic in The Ledberg Runestone is also very well developed. Since everything has a certain amount of inherent power, everything is -- essentially -- magic. For a shaman like Jonah, everything is a power source, a spell component. Just add his intention and a bit of his blood and boom.

Also, the whole walking the Spirit Plane bit. The whole hospital scene? And the wasps? Just plain cool.

The world building is, unfortunately, also where I have my biggest problem with The Ledberg Runestone (aside from a couple of weird editorial misses). In this fictional cosmology, not only is magic hidden from the majority of the population, but even many who are aware of it or who practice the Old Ways are not true "practitioners." As Jonah explains: 

... witches [deal] in fate. They could manipulate it, twist it, the works. I've never actually met one, but the scuttlebutt was that witches could see how fate worked, and, in some cases, manipulate those threads to their own ends. In the end, or so I'm told, that sort of power drove most of them about nine different kinds of stark raving mad. (pp.25-26)

In real life, the city in which Jonah lives boasts a sizable Wiccan and Pagan population. There are plenty of witches.

And then later:

A true Mambo, or Houngan, was touched by the divine. They were, essentially, descended from the Loa, the very spirits they channeled. [....] There were maybe twenty real-deal, full-fledged voodoo practitioners in the world .... (p.78)

That idea -- that all those other Wiccans and Vodouisants and Heathens out there were somehow "pretending," that they weren't really practitioners because they weren't really in the know and weren't practicing real magic -- left a bad taste in my mouth.

Yes, I get that this is a work of fiction. But, still ....

Despite that still ... I did very much enjoy The Ledberg Runestone. The characters are appealing, the action sequences are fun, the magic is colorful and intriguing, and it all ended with a big bang promising even more big bangs to come.

Recommended to fans of Devon Monk, Ilona Andrews, Jolene Dawe, Julie D Revezzo, and Stephanie Burgis. 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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