Author John Houghton sets his novel Rough Magicke in northwest Indiana, in the fictional county of Annandale originally created by classic Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson in the novel The House of a Thousand Candles – the locale corresponds pretty closely to the city of Culver, Indiana, a town nestled in around Lake Maxinkuckee, south of Valparaiso and South Bend.
Our protagonist is Father Jonathan Mears — the chaplain of the fictional Annandale Military Academy (modeled after real-life Culver Academy), an establishment he graduated from himself years before, along with his brother Dan. The Mears family are generations-old residents of Annandale, though their old family homestead burned down a few decades ago.
When Father Mears stumbles across a witches’ coven conducted by some of the students of his academy, his own family’s long dormant history of witchcraft and his own supernatural talents come to the surface. Because he’s a devout Anglican, he devotes his use of these magic talents to his religion, essentially acting as a “good witch” and servant of God. Joining forces with his brother, neice and a distant cousin who also have supernatural talents, Father Mears combats sinister magical forces at work against his family, his beloved Academy and against the community. He also faces some who have difficulty understanding his unique fusion of witchcraft and Christianity.
Father Mears is a funny, cheerful and self-confident guy who carries the story along with some twists and surprises, and Annadale Military Academy and it’s denizens have quite a life of their own as well, although the young male students seem to have a few more snappy comebacks and witty remarks than I’ve ever seen in real-life teenagers. One character that’s left too much in the shadows is the brother Daniel Mears, who seems only roughly sketched out considering his role in some of the plot.
Houghton makes great use of the Indiana landscape through the story; natives of northwest Indiana will feel at home driving around the countryside, and alumni of Culver Academy probably get quite a kick out of the large role their alma mater plays in the book.
In all Rough Magicke is a pleasant, nicely-spun set of tales – the novel has three well-rounded parts which could stand on their own, although to his credit Houghton didn’t follow the lead of other fantasy authors in creating a drawn-out trilogy when he could pack all the surprises into one book. On the other hand – be aware it is quite a long book, at that.
by John William Houghton