Sharon Bayliss’ novel “Destruction” is the first book in her new series “The December People.” The series name refers to the Vandergraff family, who are all dark wizards, and the book features one of the more interesting systems of magic I’ve come across.
In Bayliss’ world, magical people don’t choose the shade of their magic, and it doesn’t reflect the moral quality of the mage – though if dark magic is overused, it can allow the darkness in a person to take over. A wizard’s magical color is determined by what “date” on the solar calender their magic represents. There’s no explanation for how that date is determined – it’s not the same as their birthdate – but how it’s determined doesn’t really matter. Magic that represents days in the summer is “light” magic, winter magic is “dark” with spring and fall representing various shades of “neutral.”
The story opens when David Vandergraff gets a call telling him his children – who he’s been searching for for years – have been found. While he’s thrilled to have finally found them, it’s a bit of a mixed blessing. His wife knows nothing about these kids (nor do the there children he’s had with her) and their ages are such that they were obviously born after their marriage. But he goes to pick up the son and daughter he hadn’t seen in years, knowing he’ll have to face the repercussions eventually. What those repercussions involve, however, is something totally unexpected. Because of their return into his life, he finds out that not only they are dark wizards, but his entire family is. The reason he hadn’t known it was because his wife had removed all of his memories having to do with wizardry.
There are several things I really loved about this book. First and foremost, it’s not a book about one unprepared, reluctant hero facing an impossible battle of good and evil. While David may be the main character, the story is very much about the family as a whole and how they deal with all of the changes they’re facing. How do his wife and their children deal with not only having two more kids move in to the house, but also the betrayal those children represent? How does he handle the news that not only is he a wizard, but that his wife had messed with his memories about it? What happens when one of the children seems to be letting his dark side get the better of him? And while he’s trying to deal with all of this, his business falls into serious financial trouble.
Given all of those issues, Bayliss makes the smart decision to not have the family trying to fight against some huge outside force. There’s a brief episode near the end where they have to deal with an outside threat, but otherwise all of the drama is focused on what the family is going through, which gives the story a strong emotional impact.
By the time I finished “Destruction” I really wanted tho see more of the Vandergraff family and find out what happens when they are faced with an unexpected threat. Fortunately, the sequel to “Destruction,” “Watch Me Burn,” it’s available, and while I didn’t found it to be quite as strong, it’s still an excellent book.
After finishing “Destruction,” the first book in Sharon Bayliss’s “The December People” series, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the follow-up as an Advanced Review Copy (in exchange for an honest review.) I enjoyed the book quite a bit and recommend it, but I have to say it wasn’t quite as good as “Destruction.”
I think much of that was due to the way the first book focused primarily on introducing us to the Vandergraff family and the world they live in. By having the narrower focus of setting the stage for future stories and letting us see how the family interacts with each other and reacts to the changes they face just made for a tighter narrative.
In “Watch Me Burn,” the family have adapted to their new circumstances and are going about living their lives when David hears that a local girl has gone missing. In fact, the news of her disappearance seems to be following him around, as he keeps running into reminders of it. Knowing that when someone casts a spell they can’t always predict how the spell will bring about the desired results, and that sometimes a spell will “decide” that a certain person needs to be part of the process, David comes to believe that the missing girl must also be from a wizard family, and the spell her parents cast has decided it needs his help.
It turns out that his daughter Emily has met the girl previously, and when she discovers the girl’s bracelet in the family car, she decides she needs to help investigate as well. Things quickly get complicated when it seems one of the Vandergraff boys may know more than he’s letting on, another girl disappears, and Emily finds herself falling for a boy who just might be trouble.
There are a few other complications as well, and this is where my only real complaint with the book comes in – there’s just almost TOO much plot for a book of its length. There’s a side story about Amanda Vandergraff trying to help her son Jude get back on the right track, and one about the lengths a wizard will go to in trying to thwart a prophecy. That second side story, had it been fully fleshed out, could have made for a very interesting – and tension-filled – central story in a book of its own. Instead, it almost gets lost mixed in with the other story threads.
Don’t get me wrong, though – “Watch Me Burn” is a very good book and certainly makes me hope for another visit with the Vandergraffs. Bayliss does some very smart and unexpected things in the book that kept me turning the pages even when my brain was telling me it was time for food or sleep. This is a series worth checking out!