Beatrysel, by Johnny Worthen, is a very interesting novel. Set in Portland, Oregon, it centers around dark and occult deaths caused, if not by the self-made Mage Julian Cormac, then by someone close to him.
Julian has just come out of a drug-filled stupor prescribed by his psychiatrist after he exited a mental hospital to find that something is very wrong. His friends the Crabs, so called because they frequent a quaint bookshop called the Crabtree, are being targeted by a serial killer that kills by luring their victims to their deaths by Magick. Julian was first placed in the hospital after he nearly killed his girlfriend–except Julian claims it wasn’t him. It was a demon he created, which he named Beatrysel. Because of this, he is obviously the primary suspect in the investigation.
While this is an occult-themed/urban fantasy/horror (I haven’t read many books like this, so I’m not quite sure how to categorize this ), it is also very much a mystery. The characters are built piece-by-piece, with incomplete flashbacks and scenes that end before the vital piece of information is given. It took me a while to get used to this format, frustrating at times because I knew the charcters knew more than I was given. I still liked it, and I caught on after a time, but it reminded me that I need to be reading more mysteries.
One thing I found interesting was that Johnny Worthen didn’t stick to one magic system, in the traditional sense. In most fantasy, you have a single “magic system” that obeys its rules and regulations. You see druids chanting or witches brewing potions or rune masters drawing runes. In Beatrysel? The magic is brought about by your own inner Will, and whatever way works best for you is the type of magic–or Magick–you wrought. There’s a woman who works with herbs and creates satchels, a man who works magic best when high on drugs, a hoodoo priestess, and Julian’s form of using circles, triangles, and ritual. I know nothing about these methods based on real-life beliefs in magic, but there was obviously a lot of research put into this, which made the story much richer for it.
There are different themes in Beatrysel that also caught my eye. Julian created the demon Beatrysel because he wanted to create a creature of pure love. But that pure love turned to jealousy and hate. Can love exist without jealousy? Without hate? Also, Beatrysel appears in different forms to different people: a child, a woman, a mist, dark shadows. Love is different to different people, and I believe Johnny was showing those differences–the character Octavia is matronly and sees in Beatrysel an innocent child. The psychiatrist Dr. Stephensen sees a grown woman, something–if he wasn’t so afraid–he would have lusted after. Molly sees a sister she’ll protect. Beatrysel is called a modern Faust tale. I don’t know if that relates to the demons or the themes of love and jealosy or both–I, being an unlearned heathen, have never read Faust–but I do know that Johnny Worthen has made a story worth mulling over long into the hours of the night.