Magic in the Alley is a sweet, atmospheric children’s fantasy by the author of one of my very favorite children’s books, The House of Thirty Cats. The latter is about a girl who befriends an old lady with thirty cats, and ends up helping her match prospective cat owners with the exact right cat for them. It does a great job of sketching the personalities of a very large cast of cats and people, and, by paying close attention to the details of each passing moment, illuminates their beautiful, near-magical qualities. Calhoun is no Banana Yoshimoto, but she’s clearly interested in some similar emotional territory. The House of Thirty Cats is out of print, but cheap used copies are easy to find.

In Magic in the Alley, Cleery finds a box of magic in a thrift store. Her first wish is to bring a stuffed crow to life; her second is that for the whole summer, every time she walks down a new alley, she’ll find something enchanted. The stuffed crow’s wings don’t work, and his increasingly desperate desire to fly again drives the plot and the moving conclusion. It’s a standard plot, but well-done, imaginative, and psychologically perceptive. The details of the magic are lovely: a tiny but fierce mermaid, a garden where the characters’ love of their favorite season traps them in it, an invisibility cloak that infects the wearer with a sort of playful madness.

Unfortunately, this one is quite rare. I’ve never owned a copy, and had to get it from the library for a re-read.
Like many of Maxwell’s books, this is space opera from the id.

Sharia and Kane are psychics whose soul-bond is externalized and visible within the color-changing jewels they both wear. Sharia has silver skin and violet eyes and translucent silver hair. She can kill (and heal) people with her hair. Yes, literally. Kane has translucent black hair and can pick up psychometric impressions from objects. (Via his hands. I know, too bad.)

They Can Never Touch because they both have five fingers and five touching five is the ultimate taboo on their planet. When it turns out that there is an actual reason behind this, even more angst ensues. The plot, such as it is, is that Sharia and Kane’s home planet collectively went insane and the whole population became a ravening mob of crazed psychics when a pair of purple jewels that were the only thing preventing this were deactivated and then stolen. Kane and Sharia, in between touching, not touching, longing to touch, having various space yentas tell them they’ll go insane if they don’t touch, etc, search for the jewels.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are semi-sentient ships, ancient artifacts, space pirates, a translating machine that drives you insane, reincarnation, and an unkillable interdimensional transparent soul-eating cat companion.

There’s too much action occurring on the psychic plane for my taste, but it’s all great fun when people aren’t communing with or zapping each other in lengthy passages of abstract description. Kane and Sharia are sweet and rather more sensible than one would expect under the circumstances, considering all the psychic lunacy and epic angst floating about. I enjoyed this.

Timeshadow Rider
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