Tip of my tongue thing, but my searches aren't doing me much good, and I need to get back to work. It was at least a three book series that my brother had bought somewhere in the 1990s, and I later read. It was set in contemporary times (probably around the 80s or 90s), I think somewhere in the southern United States. The protagonist is a young male who'd had a promising diving career ahead of him until he, apparently in a bout of sleepwalking, jumped off of the diving board of an empty pool and badly damaged his leg. He needs to use a crutch, and has gotten into a hobby of casting miniature fantasy figurines, with which he adorns his crutch. Through some circumstances, he's sent to meet his family (who I think were the ones living in the South), including a cousin who's very friendly to him, and an uncle who is much more prickly. I have a vague memory of there being a secondary antagonist, a lout who might be a more distant relation, with a named like "Angus" (I remember, as a kid, thinking it was really close to "anus" or the characters might have made a joke about it). Eventually, he comes to find that he comes from a family with magic, and that someone may be trying to eliminate him to build their own power.

Part of the family magic is that it only blooms in them around the time of puberty, and only if their body is whole (something about the magic only working if all of the channels are unblocked). It's posited that he'd been targeted by someone who mind-controlled him into the empty pool jump to kill or injure him, and that he was "safe" due to the knee injury. At some point in the book, it's also pointed out that the women in the family are forced in a sexual encounter early in their life, as the breaking of the maidenhead is injury enough to prevent them gaining magic and thereby potentially being a threat. Most of the book involves him coming to grips with the family legacy, and trying to figure out who might be gunning for him. There's a plot point brought up at one point that, once you had come into your magic, you became effectively immortal except against one specific form of attack. There's a scene with a forging of an obsidian glass dagger to be used against one character, and that's the crux of the climax, with the protagonist swings his crutch at the person who tried to kill him before, with that person's weakness being something akin to "a six inch sword made of purest silver". It's also revealed that the protagonist had actually come into his magical power before the accident, and it's slowly healing him.

The second and third stories got weirder, as he came into his power with his family. I remember that a girlfriend (from the first or second book) disappears, with him constantly seeing her face in things around him (I distinctly remember him seeing her in the leaves of a tree) and her pleading for him to find her, with it eventually being revealed that she never actually existed, and was an illusion conjured up by part of his family to keep him busy. He encounters a mysterious man in a junkyard (who, I think, was implied to have seduced that girlfriend before it was revealed that she didn't actually exist) who has ill-defined powers involving construction (there's a scene where the protagonist puts some coins into a "pleasure machine" he made that involves a silk purse as part of its construction with the implication that it's a meant for someone to stick their anatomy into it). I also remember a scene where that man had been cutting a plank of wood, and then was running around with it, crowing about how it had naturally cut into the shape of his male member (albeit several feet long), I think with the said girlfriend in the scene. I feel like it was being implied that the man was some sort of "Pan" figure, all about satisfying one's desires.

A few other random details that pop into my head is that at one point the protagonist builds a mechanical oracle head that occasionally gives him advice, and that there's a scene where he listens to a particular radio station in the area to get some hints about the future (it being known in the family that the station always plays songs that will be significant when they tune in). The books were fairly normal paperbacks, some 200-300 pages in length. I don't remember anything about the covers other than I think one of them has the oracular head on it.

1 Answer 1


This is Soulsmith by Tom Deitz, first book of the Soulsmith trilogy. This review actually covers pretty much every point I remember.

Soulsmith is the story of Ronny Dillon, a young man who has just lost everything that he loves, a promising swimming and diving competitor who destroys his kneecap in a 10 meter fall, and whose parents are killed in a freak automobile accident the same day. Ronny is sent to live with relatives in a remote small town in Georgia, where things begin to get a little strange.

Ronny's great uncle Matt is the Master of Cardalba, latest in a line of masters who have used their Luck, minor magical powers akin to ESP, to make the town and people surrounding their estate prosperous. The Masters have historically been benevolent, but Matt, the product of an incestuous relationship, has gone a little paranoiac and power-mad, and is bent on restoring his estate to its pre-Civil War glory, no matter what the cost. Ronny and his cousin, Lew, must battle against Matt and Anson, his renegade protege, to save themselves, and the town from dire consequences.

Soulsmith moves a bit slowly throughout, but has a lot of nifty plot twists good characterizations. One of the things I though was neat was that each initiate of the Luck has a Flaw, a sort of Achilles heel known only to three people which will kill them if it becomes necessary for the "good of the Land". Also, there's a wacky character called The Road Man who teaches Ronny about how to be a soulsmith, whose comic antics and philosophical musings provide a nice counterpoint to one another. Deitz also introduces a musical version of Tarot readings, called the mojo, wherein the first twelve songs heard on the radio after midnight determine the omens for that day.

Dreambuilder takes up about four years after Soulsmith, as Ronny is graduating from college. Lew has assumed the Mastership of Cardalba after their uncle Matt's death, and convinces Ronny that he really needs him to come home, as there's trouble brewing again. Ronny has a lot of bad memories of his hometown, and is reluctant to return, but the mojo finally convinces him that it's his duty to help.

Lew has grown tired of the responsibilities of the Mastership, and wants a sabbatical of sorts. He'd like Ronny to take over for him while he goes off to college somewhere, as the Masters are bound to the land while they hold the position, and cannot leave it for very long. Ronny is about to meet the woman of his dreams, an independent young art teacher named Brandy, who is building a castle on a hill called Brandy Hall (the Tolkien references are obvious and intentional).

Ronny is coerced, or perhaps seduced, into staying to help Brandy with the metalwork on her castle. There are, however, mysterious forces in motion and it seems the supernatural forces are trying to make Ronny a pawn in their game once again. There's some blatant use of Welsh mythology here, scenes from the Mabinogion, and Deitz makes sure in the characters' dialogue that we are all aware of his sources.

One minor flaw I noticed in the first two books is that Deitz sometimes uses references that will soon become dated. For example, rather than go to the trouble of describing Ronny's features, he says that he looks like Kevin Bacon. This kind of thing is a little distracting. I find myself stopping in the middle of the page to wonder "What the heck does Kevin Bacon look like?" He also mentions some character who looks a lot like Legolas the elf, only not quite as tall. This is really a vague description, as every reader of Tolkien is going to get a different impression, as have all of the artists who've done Tolkien calendars over the last twenty years. But I digress.

One of the themes that runs through these books is that Ronny seems only to get motivated to do anything remotely heroic when either the physical or emotional well-being of his most current love interest is threatened. There's a lot of romantic conflict in all of the books (speaking from hindsight), and I was really bothered by Brandy's infidelity to Ronny at one point in Dreambuilder. She's been represented all through the book as a person of great integrity and honesty, but I totally lost all respect for her after that. To be perfectly fair, Ronny does the same thing at one point in the final novel, Wordwright, so he's betrayed my trust in him as far as I'm concerned, too. He doesn't even have the excuse that he was seduced by a supernatural being, as Brandy was. Again, I digress, but I think one can make one's characters human without them being amoral or unethical. Might be just a personal bias of mine in this age of promiscuity, but I believe that trust and fidelity are essential characteristics in a fantasy hero. If you're just looking for a gratuitous sex scene or so to sell books, you should be writing romance novels.

In the final "electrifying conclusion", Wordwright, Lew goes off in search of his long lost sister, to offer her heirs the Mastership of Cardalba. It turns out that she's even more of a nutcase than old uncle Matt was, and she holds Lew captive and incommunicado, and plans to sacrifice him in order to gain his powers to add to hers. Ronny begins to be concerned for Lew after he's fallen out of touch, and after having a fight with Brandy, first moves out of her castle, then hits the road in search of Lew.

Found on the page for Oracular Head on TV Tropes.

FWIW, the lout I recalled was "Anson", who is apparently Matt's grandson.

It was Anson Bowman; Ronny would have recognized those piercing blue eyes, that crisp-angled chin and mane of wild black hair anywhere. It was a cruel face for one so young, or would have been had Anson not also possessed an upturned nose that was almost perky, and a thin black mustache so silky and spare it undermined any pretensions to machismo it—or the black leather jacket he always affected—might otherwise have evoked.

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