Joe Farrell returns to his hometown and discovers that his old friends in the League for Archaic Pleasures medieval reenactment group are actually dabbling in real magic. Joe Farrell is a musician and a bit of a drifter who has spent the last decade or so driving around the country and working odd jobs. He returns to his hometown of Avicenna, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and crashes with his old college buddy Ben Kassoy.
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Ben is living with an older woman named Sia, who Joe senses is more than meets the eye and her giant dog. Joe hooks up with an old girlfriend of his named Julie, and she introduces him to a medieval reenactment group called The League for Archaic Pleasures. They host fairs, tournaments and mock battles where people dress up in medieval garb and take on fictional personas from the period. Joe finds many of his old friends in the group, using it as a bit of an escape from their mundane lives.
Sia is a therapist, and her patients come to the apartment. One night there is a confrontation with the abusive partner of one of her patients and Joe witnesses what he is certain is her using magic to subdue him. He also notices strange things in the house, like rooms that change location and windows that are only there at night. He becomes convinced that Sia is a supernatural creature.
He also notices that a few of the League members are a little too into their characters, and sometimes stay in their roles even when back in the real world. Eventually Joe figures out that they are not playacting but are in fact really possessed by ancient spirits. His friend Ben, for instance, appears to not recognize him on several occasions and when confronted admits that he shares his physical form with a Viking named Egil, and that Sia is in fact a goddess and the dog is her familiar. He tells Joe that neither of them have any control over the possession.
Joe investigates and discovers that fifteen-year Rosanna, whose League persona is the Lady Aiffe, is actually a witch and responsible for the spirit channeling. But what she doesn't seem to realize is that she is actually being used by a more powerful force. She has summoned a demon that was vanquished five centuries ago and goes by the name Nicholas Bonner. At first Joe dismisses her as an unwitting pawn, but it becomes clear that she is desperate for power and reckless.
It turns out that Bonner is really after Sia, who is really his mother. They have confronted each other over and over through the centuries, each time with her growing less powerful. Bonner tries to use Aiffe's power and his own to enter her home and kill her but she just barely resists.
The story culminates with a large mock battle within the League called the War of the Witch. Joe and his friends, and many of the participants are aware that the battle is only apparently fake, and that the two sides are actually taking the field for real, Sia's allies vs. those of Bonner and Aiffe. Reality and fantasy collide as real warriors with real weapons join the fray. Ben, possessed by his Viking, saves the day by entering a beserker rage and killing one, causing the rest to flee. Ben's body is unharmed, but he senses that the Viking has died in his own time period.
Sia and her dog battle Aifee and Bonner in her own home, and ultimately Bonner is subdued once more and Sia tells them she will take care of Aiffe in her own way. As the magical parts of Sia's home fall apart around them, everyone else flees.
After the battle the unexplained sightings and injuries, plus the death of the member that Ben killed cause the League to slowly fall apart. Sia disappears, leaving Ben the real parts of her house, and her dog in Joe's care. They run into Rosanna, who was Aiffe the witch, but when Joe asks her what happened between her and Sia he finds her memories of the events are gone.
Restless again, Joe takes the dog with him and leaves Avicenna for the open road.
Best part of story, including ending:
This fictional story is loosely based on a the real group called The Society for Creative Anachronism.
Best scene in story:
I loved the final confrontation between Sia and Bonner, the magical battle is exciting and well described and you believe that Sia might lose.
Opinion about the main character:
He's probably the least interesting of the characters in the book, since he has no real stakes other than nostalgic attachment to his old buddies and town, I wish more time had been spent with Ben or Julie.