The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, by Harry Turtledove

the-case-of-the-toxic-spell-dump-by-harry-turtledove coverGenre: Modern/Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Baen
Published: 1993
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by David Hart

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What a wonderful title, giving a brilliant precis of the story–almost worth 4 stars in itself. And an equally good story line.

The action takes place in a alternate earth where magic and religions all work, and have substituted for our technology (magic carpets for cars, cloned imps for telephony etc etc etc). Unfortunately just as our industrial and military technologies produce toxic residues, so with their magical equivalents. These get dumped in dumps as do our chemical and radioactive wastes, but if the residues of demonic spells breach the containment, the environmental damage can affect both body and soul. Actually you knew all this already, just from the title.

The hero is a bureaucrat from the Environmental Perfection Agency, who receives a tip-off of a leak from the local dump. He discovers not only an increase in cases of Elf-shot but also birth defects: newborn vampires, werewolves and babies without souls. Watch him, struggling against overwork and armed only with an out-of-date spellchecker, as he tries to identify the leak and the culprit and avert a Third Sorcerous War.

So why doesn’t the book merit 5 stars? It’s not the writing style, which is fine. The characters are well drawn. The main trouble is the plot, which isn’t really big enough to fill 367 pages. As a result the middle of the book drags in places, and the climax occurs 30 pages before the finish. In addition the plot as a mystery didn’t entirely fit together as it should at the ending. Too, I got a little fed up with the number of “Hey, this is an Alternate World” reminders, like Angels City instead of Los Angeles, D.St.C instead of Washington and many more. It is also my solemn duty to issue a humor alert: weak puns come so thick and fast that I ended up pun-drunk. The wittiest bit is the idea of a CIA spook who is indeed a Spook; yet he then is made to say “My name is Legion, Henry Legion”.

So it’s not perfect, but nevertheless overall it is decidedly good. Forgive the defects, forgive even the puns, and enjoy the story.

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