The book was billed as “Harry Potter meets Ocean’s Eleven” and I have to say that it doesn’t live up to that description. It’s neither as charming as the Potter series, nor as clever and quick-witted as the Ocean’s Eleven films – well, the book is probably about as exciting as the original Ocean’s Eleven film (the Rat Pack version), which I found unaccountably boring.

Some plot spoilers follow.

Two college students, Bill and Jackson, are in Vegas on Spring Break with a surefire way to win big at the casinos. No, they’re not card counters, one of their college professors has taught them how to do magic. The story begins in media res, with them already in Vegas and using magic. I would have liked a bit more explanation and discussion of how the two protagonists first learned magic. That’s kind of a big deal, frankly. Anyway, they quickly run afoul of the local Powers That Be in Vegas, a cabal of ruthless magicians, who don’t like customers using magic. Can’t say that I blame them. They escape and go on the lam, eventually getting help from a local Native American woman who’s part of a rival faction of magicians. All right. I’m about to spoiler you on who the big bad guy is in the novel. If you don’t want to know, skip the rest of this paragraph. The main villain of the book is an undead Harry Houdini who wants to restore his mouldering corpse to life. Frankly, I think the choice of villains was in poor taste. I don’t know a lot about the real Houdini, but I doubt that he deserves to be depicted as an ancient, murderous necromancer. It just seems tasteless to use an actual historical figure as the bad guy.

The characters are a bit flat, and at times it really felt like Forbeck was just going through the motions. At times, I felt like the book was no much more than a series of chases through Las Vegas. One strong chase scene would have been perfect, but it eventually gets old. And, well, zombies as cannon fodder bad guys? Come on. Been done to death.

I give this one 2.5 stars out of 5. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but if I had to characterize it in one word, I’d describe it as “mediocre.” Not great, not terrible, just kind of boring and run-of-the-mill. Utterly predictable in all particulars. Nothing we haven’t seen before, and both the characterization and plot are thin. If you really, really like contemporary urban fantasy and “secret magic in the real world” kinds of stories, and you are obsessed with Las Vegas, then go for it, you’ll enjoy this one. Otherwise, there are better examples of this genre out there.

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review.

Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers