James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Into the Sea of Waking Dreams

The Last Rite  (Blood & Magic, volume 1)

By Jen Frankel 

3 Mar, 2017

A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

2012’s1 The Last Rite is the first volume in Jen Frankel’s Blood & Magic series. 

Thirteen-year-old Maggie Stuart is an unwilling loner, unable to make friends at her Toronto school and unsure why that is so. Even the boy on whom she has a painful crush is barely aware of her. If he notices her at all, it’s to ask for academic help.

No worries, though, because the Burnt Man has taken a keen interest in young Maggie. He wants to be with her for ever and ever. Or until Maggie dies. Whichever comes first.

The Burnt Man senses that Maggie has immense magical potential, potential that could be put to better use extending his already unnaturally long life. It’s important that Maggie cooperate in the necessary rite … or at least that she not be able to resist effectively. To this end, the Burnt Man does his best to tempt Maggie with vast power, and to break Maggie’s spirit in a magical dreamscape.

The Burnt Man’s children, obedient Damon and violently jealous Arabella, have their roles to play in the Burnt Man’s schemes. Alas for the Burnt Man and Maggie, Arabella’s role is in no sense constructive for either of them. Casually murderous, she leaves a trail of bodies behind her in Toronto. In the Burnt Man’s realm, her goals are entirely self-centred. She shows no concern for the people who will pay the price for her bid for power.

Bad enough to have miscalculated the effects that his demented daughter will have on his cunning plans. The Burnt Man will also learn that it is far worse to have underestimated Maggie and her friends as badly as he has. 


It’s not clear why a 4000-year-old entity who seems to be European in origin would have his base of operations in Canada. After all, the period in which North America was settled by Europeans is only 1/8th of the Burnt Man’s life to date, and the span when the region was economically developed much more recent than that (Canada was essentially a nation of bucolic hicks until my family moved here). It might be that he has bases, and operations, far outside Canada, ones irrelevant to this story. 

This may have been Frankel’s first novel. There are some early novel issues here, in particular a cast that seems a bit larger than the author’s ability to give all of them something worthwhile to do. Tighter focus on Maggie might have worked more effectively.

There’s an interesting mention re the Burnt Man’s relationship with modern technology. He uses it as much as he can. It’s not just that digital watches are cool, although of course they are, but modern technology has the tremendous advantage that it keeps working even when we don’t pay attention to it. Magic, on the other hand, only works as long as some adept personally supplies the will and power to make it so. 

Although the novel only covers a short period of time, it’s enough to show that the Burnt Man is a terrible dad even by fantasy genre standards. He’s not even as good as most power-mad despots. It’s not just that he’s arrogant and abusive. His methods fail to accomplish their goals. Damon may be loyal but he’s also too poorly schooled to be a useful tool. Arabella is much more powerful than Damon, but also as crazy as a bag of rabid weasels. Even Maggie’s dad is a better dad than the Burnt Man and Maggie’s dad has been absent from her life as long as she can remember.

The Last Rite is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com

1: Goodreads claims this was first published in 2002, but I am pretty sure this is an error on their part. Unfortunately, Frankel’s ISFDB entry is woefully incomplete and of no help in this matter. All of the other Frankel works for which I could find publication dates are from after 2010. The ebook itself mentions 2008 and 2012. In any case, I’ve met Frankel and she doesn’t look old enough to have published books fifteen years ago.