MageSign by Alan Baxter, is a fast-paced ride through a visceral reality which holds a mirror up to today's apathetic society.
This is the sequel to RealmShift, which I enjoyed reading, but had enough issues with to mark it a 3/5 on the Amazon scale of reviews. MageSign scores an easy 4/5 on that same scale. Although Baxter drops enough background story to make this more-or-less stand on its own, I recommend you read RealmShift first - it will add to the overall experience.
Again the story revolves around Isiah, the central character for both books, but this time he's not working for the mysterious entity known as The Balance, he's doing a little project of his own. In the first book, we were introduced to Samuel Harrigan, a particularly nasty piece of work, and we learn of his ability with blood magic. In MageSign, Isiah has decided the world could do without more Harrigans and sets out to destroy The Sorcerer, Harrigan's teacher of the black arts. In the second book, Baxter gives us enough information to know who Harrigan was, but to gain a true understanding of how bad this guy really was - read the first book.
But three years has passed between the books. The reader is led to believe Isiah has been kept busy maintaining the balance of all things, while the Sorcerer has been far from idle. Now his organization is truly global and fast-tracked toward reaching an horrific goal, a goal hidden to everyone and everything - including the Balance.
Stepping in and out of countries ranging from Australia, England, the USA, and even Tibet, Baxter creates an intricate plot, laced with wonderful scenic descriptions. His knowledge of the martial arts also shines through with excellently choreographed fight routines, and more subtle references to Asian fighting style disciplines and everyday way of life.
Isiah is still a superman of a character with amazing abilities and inner strength, but the story allows a greater showing of his human side - including a growing affection with a new leading lady. But it also better depicts his understanding of the need to keep balance between all things. His reasoning behind choices and actions within the book, truly paint a man made to keep the balance without having to be amoral - a difficult thing to accomplish.
The sentence structure is again short and sharp in places, unusual and something which takes a little getting used to, but I was ready for it this time after having read RealmShift earlier. This is obviously a style choice by Baxter and works for him more often than not.
But Baxter's true claim to fame is his final climaxes. In the first book, the build up was very well done although the aftermath and character reactions were disappointing - not the case here. The mounting tension is exquisitely handled, built up to a crescendo of amazing proportions. Nothing is missed on this ending, including all the character reactions. It is a fitting ending to a thoroughly good read.
Accepting the sentence structure as a style choice, I'm happy to let that pass, but the Balance still feels the need to shout in capitals. Thankfully, the entity has a much smaller part to play in this book and so yelled conversations are short and sparse.
The only other issue I had with this book was one scene between Isiah and his mate, Gabe. It came across as inserted slapstick in the middle of a dark fantasy novel. It was not required, and tended to make a mockery of the two characters Baxter had painstakingly built up, both in this book and in RealmShift, and almost made me put down the book there and then - I'm glad I didn't, but it was a close thing.
Ignoring that one scene, Baxter has delivered a book which is better than the first one, which was pretty good to start with. If this trend continues, I'll be looking forward to the next installment.