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“Magic was supposed to be…magical. Not screams and tears.”

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome by Jeff McIntyre is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. While the cover artwork is undoubtedly beautiful, the image of a gnome hiding in shrubbery may lead you to believe this is a middle-grade novel, or perhaps even a cozy fantasy. However, The Garden Gnome could be more accurately described as a contemporary low fantasy crossed with a Michael Crichton-style thriller.

The main premise of The Garden Gnome is an imminent return of magic to our modern world dominated by science and technology. Although The Garden Gnome has a global scope, most of the book takes place in suburban Chicago. The story shifts among several different perspectives, weaving a complex web of personal and political intrigue.

We are introduced first to Tony, the ten-year-old son of Daniel, a history professor, and Sophia, a businesswoman with a powerful but enigmatic boss. Bullied at school, Tony finds solace from an imaginary friend he calls Bob. But Bob, like Tony himself, may offer more than meets the eye.

Jeff McIntyre blends science fiction into The Garden Gnome via an impending breakthrough at Fermilab, the U.S. Department of Energy’s national particle accelerator laboratory just outside of Chicago. For me, McIntyre’s incorporation of a particle accelerator within a fantasy novel brought back fond memories of reading The Wheel of Osheim, the excellent final volume of Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy.

The Fermilab plot thread also provides the basis for introducing many of the other point-of-view characters in the book, most notably Leo, a science and technology reporter for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, and Deb, an FBI agent. Leo and Deb are both investigating Nadir, an organization that opposes the advances at Fermilab and might potentially cross over into the realm of violence and terrorism.

Although this is a fantasy novel, several of the characters and organizations in The Garden Gnome feel worthy of a James Bond movie. Beyond Nadir, The Garden Gnome features another shady multinational organization known as the Knights of the Stone. Derived from Arthurian mythos, the Knights of the Stone are dedicated to the suppression of magic by whatever means necessary.

Gray morality comes in through this purported return of magic, which is considered an opportunity by some and a grave threat by others. But if magic is destined to bring about the apocalypse, does that serve as justification for murder?

Jeff McIntyre’s prose is straightforward and enjoyable, propelling the plot forward at a fast clip. I also enjoyed the blend of fantasy and science fiction throughout The Garden Gnome, although I wish the particle accelerator had featured more prominently in the latter part of the book.

The garden gnome himself is an absolute delight. Although he doesn’t get a lot of page time, I thoroughly enjoyed each of his scenes.

Altogether, The Garden Gnome is a delightful surprise, a Crichtonesque thriller that blends contemporary fantasy with science fiction, Arthurian legend, and Ian Fleming levels of intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eager to see what happens next in Jeff McIntyre’s Theory of Magic series.

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

The Garden Gnome

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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