Thursday 16 March 2017

Review: Some Small Magic by Billy Coffey

Note: Review Contains Major Spoilers

This is the first book I’ve read by Billy Coffey, and while neither the title, the cover or the description especially appealed to me, I requested it for review because of the good things I’ve heard about his previous books. I read a lot of ‘Top Ten’ lists at the end of 2016, and several of them mentioned Coffey’s previous book, The Devil Walks in Mattingly.

I was also interested to read it from a writing perspective. One of the (many) online writing/editing groups I’m part of had a discussion about point of view. The specific discussion was around omniscient point of view, and whether it’s an acceptable option in modern fiction. Someone cited Billy Coffey as a current CBA author writing omniscient point of view. So you see why I had to read it …

The result is I started reading Some Small Magic without knowing much about it, but with the expectation of something worth reading, and something a little different.

And yes, different is what I got.

The story is told in a weird kind of third person. Most of it is from the viewpoint of Abel, an eleven year old boy who is described as special (a word he and his mother both hate, and one that doesn’t really describe him). Other scenes are written from the viewpoint of his mother, his father, his best friend, and even his worst enemy.

Modern writing ‘rules’ would say that the scenes from Abel’s viewpoint have to be seen through his eyes and described in words he would use, but they aren’t. Not really. Some of the vocabulary is too advanced for even the most special eleven year old, but it works. Somehow. Even though it feels like I’m being told a story rather than experiencing the story through Abel’s eyes (which is what third person deep perspective should be).

But it works. Abel is only eleven, and a boy, and every parent knows small boys aren’t the most reliable of narrators. The voice is unique, and what’s even more impressive is that each character has a distinct voice.

That’s the good stuff.

Unfortunately, there was also not-so-good stuff which had me wanting to put the novel down several times.

The theology in Some Small Magic is up there with the theology in The Da Vinci Code in terms of its consistency with the Bible. In this fictional world, pretty much everyone goes to heaven, especially children. Even if they’re nasty bullies who show every indication of turning into serial killers. There's no mention of Jesus, of salvation.

Then there are the main characters. One is Death, who appears in the form of a young woman. Then there is Abel, who [spoiler] is a ghost. Now, I have nothing against ghosts in general market fiction (e.g. JK Rowling). I wouldn’t even mind a ghost in Christian fiction if it turned out to be the product of some kind of mental illness. But this is a proper ghost. A spirit-still-on-earth-because-it-hasn’t-been-shown-The-Path ghost. And I don’t think that has any place in Christian fiction.

Despite this, there was something compelling about Some Small Magic, perhaps in the same way as Twilight was compelling. But the end was all a bit of a let-down. It was pretty much what I’d been expecting since the halfway point (despite some red herrings suggesting the contrary). While there was some great writing, it didn’t make up for dodgy theology or the lack of character development (although, in fairness, am I being unreasonable to expect character development from Death, a ghost, and an idiot?).

Overall, this is a novel I don’t mind suggesting that writers read for the writing, but not one I’d recommend as a good example of Christian fiction.

After all, Christian fiction should be Christian. At least, that's what I think.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more

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  1. Always love reading your reviews, Iola. I've read one of Coffey's novels: The Curse of Crow Hollow and thoroughly enjoyed it because of its small town feel and Coffey's perceptions of evil. It was also written in this deep Southern voice with dialect and all which made it compelling for me. Did I have some struggles with elements of it? Yes, but the positives outweighed them.

    I've been keeping my eye on this one and even though I haven't read it most of your comments don't surprise me. Coffey isn't everyone's cup of tea and for readers like us who read far and wide there are good bits and not so good bits about his stories that make them interesting and worth reading.

    Now will I read it? Hmmm ...

    1. I wondered if you'd read any of Coffey's novels, Ian. It borders on speculative, and yes, the small town feel and Southern voice were strengths. But Charles Martin does that equally well, and without the elements I had issues with in Some Small Magic.

      I'll be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read this!


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