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FIFTH YEARS AFTER THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, MAGIC IS LOOSE IN THE BACKWOODS
The forces of evil are poised to prey on the folk of the hamlets and hollows: witches, demons, and red-handed men—but first they’ll have to overcome Old Nathan the Wizard.
He doesn’t claim much for his magical powers, but they’re real enough for what they are—and besides, he hasn’t forgotten how to use his long flintlock rifle ….
Enter the gritty, realistic world of Old Nathan, a backwoodsman who talks to animals and says he’ll face The Devil himself-and who in the end will have to face The Devil in very fact.
Old Nathan by David Drake is a collection of stories about a cunning (witchy) man located in the Carolinas about fifty years after the revolutionary war strung together in a novel-type package but easily read separately. Old Nathan is the person a body goes to when you’ve dun run out of all other options. His price is high. Mostly swallowing yer pride but he do speak to animals and does strange things, and maybe in league with the Devil.
The writing is in the dialect language of the space-time. The stories themselves are getting long-in-the-tooth; not enough for a modern high-speed cellphone addict to identify with. A different time and place, slower and more magic. Back with the things in the woods didn’t take selfies with intruders, they ate ’em.
I enjoyed the magic not being wiz-bang wizard robes and lightning bolts. Farseeing was done with wellwater; ghosts were dealt with by feeding them ashcakes cooked in the hearth. Old Nathan is creepy powerful in that he not only does the minor hedge magic, but goes beyond, into the shadow realms opened at twilight, into places which bend the mind and create madness.
He is old enough and lived through the war that death holds little fear over him. He is too slow and tired to run far from things people in their right minds should run from. And so the things in the night become curious since he isn’t running or scared, and in their curiosity the teethy things become vulnerable. Not greatly vulnerable – they still be hungry, with great claws and teeth, but sometimes the second pause of “what is this different thing” gives Old Nathan the moment he needs to live. It worked for him so far, but in each story the question is “is this time when the beast will be faster then cunning?”
I wrote the review after the third story but have finished the rest. Again, the stories may not be enjoyed very much longer just because living in one-room houses, drawing from wells, and needing horses to get to your nearest neighbor are becoming things of ancient history.
Is the cunning man always cunning enough, or does he need to run from the danger in some of the stories? Well that would be tellin’.
If this your cup of tea, you should read it. – The book is offered for free on Kindle, so take the chance.