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Check it out: What's hot at the library

July 17, 2007

The latest Harry Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is due out soon.

Don't miss "Late Night with Harry Potter" at Milwaukee Public Library's Central Library from 9 p.m. to midnight Friday, July 20. The party celebrating the release of the book is presented by Chase Bank. For information, visit mpl.org.

If you're a big fan of Rowling's series and you've already reread the first six novels while waiting for the seventh, here are a few suggested books about wizardry and magic:

• JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke - Bloomsbury/Holtzbrinck, 2004

Harry Potter meets Jane Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray in this novel of "practical magicians" set during the early 19th century and Napoleonic Wars. Norrell is a scholar who, like other magicians of the time, has studied ancient writings on magic. Theoretical magic dominates the profession, but no one is capable of performing magic.

Norrell changes that by an impressive demonstration of practical magic - he brings the statues of York Minster to life and commands them to speak. Norrell, in spite of his reclusive nature, becomes the toast of London society overnight.

Against his better judgment, he takes on an apprentice magician, Jonathan Strange. Strange is the antithesis of Norrell - a society aristocrat, outgoing and intent on enlisting magic to stop Napoleon. Reluctantly, Norrell joins in, but there is a tension between the two that reinforces the main plot development of the novel - the entrapment of Strange's wife in the lands of faerie.

Clarke, in her debut novel, does a masterful job of interweaving a very complex depiction of the practice of magic with London politics and drawing room manners. This is a humorous, though often eerie, novel leavened with appearances by a number of historical figures. The character of the Duke of Wellington is particularly effective.

Clarke followed up this novel with a collection of stories, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories." These stories, originally a warm-up for her novel, show magic more often in a domestic setting, without the framework of the Napoleonic Wars - a bit like Austen meets Harry Potter.

WHITE NIGHT: A NOVEL OF THE DRESDEN FILES by Jim Butcher - Roc, 2007

There's more than one wizard named Harry, but this one's Harry Dresden, and he practices wizardry in Chicago, not Hogwarts. This is the latest novel in the Dresden Files series, and it finds Harry dealing with chaos and evil magic both at home and on the job.

At home, Chicago's only professional wizard is coping with his vampire half-brother, Thomas. Out in the field, he finds someone is murdering other Chicago-area wizards, and, as newly-promoted Warden, it's his job to track down the killer.

With the help of his apprentice, Molly, and his dog, Mouse, he investigates the killings only to find his brother is the most likely suspect. This page-turning horror thriller is the ninth novel in the Dresden Files series, and is a good look at what a grown-up Harry Potter might find himself doing.

BAD MAGIC by Stephan Zielinski - Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, 2004

The world is under constant threat from vampires, zombies (and zombie dogs), werewolves and other supernatural threats. The problem is most of us don't see them and aren't aware of them, because the human race has learned to keep its third eye firmly closed rather than let in knowledge of evil in all of its manifestations.

Luckily for all the potential victims, there's an organization willing to take on these ghouls. The heroes of this novel - a group of mages, alchemists and other magical types led by Al Rider - are based in Seattle, but they travel to San Francisco to take on a "vulture cult" that feeds on human misery and hopes to use it to resurrect their god.

Rider and his team are effectively portrayed as the less-than-ideally-coordinated bunch of eccentrics they are. They don't exactly use magic as we're used to seeing in the Harry Potter stories, but rather use "magickal technology," which is every bit as fun and not bogged down by techno-babble.

The novel is seasoned with a heavy dose of humor, but that doesn't detract from the horror and suspense of this surreal look at the everyday world.

THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND by Jonathan Stroud - Hyperion Books for Children, 2003; THE GOLEM'S EYE,2004; and PTOLEMY'S GATE, 2006

These three novels in the Bartimaeus trilogy are usually shelved with the children's or young adult fiction, but if you're an adult fan of the Harry Potter series, you'll probably enjoy these, too.

In the world of the trilogy, set mainly in London, wizards are the ruling class, having the skills to do magic that ordinary people don't. There's also something of an alternate history of the British Empire behind the novels in which William Gladstone is revered as a great magician, for instance.

Doing magic is not as simple as waving a magic wand or reciting an incantation - it involves summoning a djinni (or an imp or demon) who is powerful enough to carry out your commands, but not so powerful you'll be overwhelmed by it. The djinni, then, becomes the slave of the magician for as long as it can be controlled or until the magician releases it.

Nathaniel is the precocious apprentice of a middle-ranking magician, Arthur Underwood, who treats him abominably, almost as badly as the Dursleys treat Harry Potter. Nathaniel schemes for revenge on his master, which involves using the Amulet of Samarkand to conjure up and control Bartimaeus, a very powerful djinni.

Fortunately for the reader, Bartimaeus is also powerfully funny - sarcastic and dismissive of mere mortals even though he is their servant. Nathaniel finds himself in the midst of political infighting in the magician-controlled government at the same time he learns about a resistance movement of non-magic commoners.

If you've run out of Harry Potter, give these a try.

Check out these books and more at the Bay View Library, 2566 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

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