This one came to me through NetGalley review a while back – a long while back.
The review mills of MarzAat grind slow but usually grind fine.
Review: Demon Lights, Michael M. Hughes, 2017.
As the novel opens, the world is falling apart under war, terrorism, and assassinations. It’s all the work of the Black Brotherhood who has been suborning and corrupting the world’s governing elite through magic, blackmail, drugs, sex, and bribery. Under its leader, Lily, it’s looking to crack open the ancient black spheres found in different parts of the world and apocalyptically transform Earth.
Both sides are in contact with extraterrestrial forces – call them gods, space aliens, or beings from another plane.
Deceit and delusion are some of the main themes here, and that was an element I especially liked. The White Brotherhood that rescued series hero Ray, his wife Ellen, and stepson William from Lily’s clutches in the first novel, Blackwater Lights, is corrupted and almost destroyed in an attack on their hidden base at the beginning of this novel.
Ray has been training to develop his powers as a “traveler”, sort of an adept at astral projection and mentally contacting otherworldly entities. It’s the same talent that caused his uncle to turn him over to an MKULTRA mind control experiment when he was a teenager and why Lily wants him for the Black Brotherhood.
Ray and the survivors of the attack go on a mission to rescue Ellen and William who, at the end of Witch Lights, ended up as prisoners of the Black Brotherhood. They are being kept at an Arctic compound built around one of those black spheres. Also at the compound are several psychically talented children like William who are being molded and trained to serve Lily’s ends.
Much of the book is a chopper flight from somewhere in Latin America to Canada with refueling stops showing us how much America and the world has fallen apart. Then we get the final confrontation between Whites and Blacks.
Besides the many instances of duplicity and suspicion, I liked Hughes’ pacing. While I guessed some of his climax, the ending surprised me and was logical. Hughes does a nice job depicting the menace of some of those forces in other realms as well as what they can do to those who serve them. He also reminds us that human agendas are not necessarily alien agendas whether you’re Black or White.
How a covert training to develop young magicians would be run is well depicted and credible. We get several chapters with Ellen and William as viewpoint characters. Ellen gets a cellmate, and William gets a friend. The question is will Ellen and William be able to escape before Lily cracks open her cosmic egg of doom. And how far are they willing to be bribed and blackmailed into helping her?
There were a few problems. The details of one atrocity are rather improbable and too convenient for plot mechanics. Claire, one of the Adepts of the White Brotherhood is, as even Ray notes, a bit woo-wooey in her New Age talk about laying souls to rest and cosmic forces helping them to their destiny. Her sentiments, though, are certainly in keeping with the themes of the book and its plot.
A generally satisfying conclusion to a trilogy I enjoyed.
Additional Thoughts (with Spoilers)
I was amused that the teachers running the Black Brotherhood program to develop children magically powerful enough for their purposes were named Fortune and Regardie as in the famed occultists Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie. Fortune only comes to realize towards the end that Lily’s plans aren’t as benevolent as she thought. Regardie ends up as a human sacrifice.
The White Brotherhood is corrupted from within by being too complacent about the black sphere and its influence at its Elusis compound. When Ray expresses concern, he is discredited, very subtly, by Malaika, a member of the governing council. She’s black, and it’s nice to see Hughes had the guts to give us a black villain rather than the usual “numinous negro” though we get something close to that with the appearance of Micah, a black man who died in the first novel though not before warning of some corruption at the heart of the White Brotherhood.
Hughes series, though it contains elements of Lovecraftian horror and spy thrillers, even a bit of a technothriller aspect in the attack on the White Brotherhood, is fundamentally a supernatural work where will, spells, visions, and glyphs and sigils are as important in the struggle as grenades and bullets. However, in Hughes’ fiction, magic is not more important or more powerful. It can sometimes be fought with physical means.