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Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia from Solaris Books #BookReview #fantasy #witches

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Solaris Books, eBook, £5.99

Reviewed by Robin C.M. Duncan

The front cover for Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The cover is a dark purple. In hte middle of the page is a small candle which has created a pick circle of light revealing the book's title. Also visible from the candle's light is a black guitar, some CD cases and polaroids on the left hand side, and some headphones, books and a sneaker on the right.

There is a lot to enjoy in this Urban Fantasy around the lives, loves and struggles of a trio of teenage Mexican witches, beautifully drawn characters, the emotional turmoil of family and youthful romance, and the key importance of music in the coming of age. These and other threads are expertly woven into a powerful drama told over two alternating time periods.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian-Mexican author of fantasy and horror stories whose work frequently is nominated and awarded. Her 2020 novel Mexican Gothic received eight nominations, winning the BFS’s August Derleth Award and the 2021 Locus (Best Horror Novel) and Aurora (Best Novel) awards. The author has stated her inspiration to write Signal to Noise (her 2015 debut novel) came from her parents, both working at a radio station.

It is 2009. Mercedes Vega (nickname Meche) arrives in Mexico City for her father’s funeral and to clean out his apartment. Now in her thirties, she reminisces about her life in 1988 when she was fifteen, and her mother and DJ father—also an aspiring writer—were still together. The mainstays of her turbulent, angst-ridden teenage years were Sebastian and Daniela, each a misfit in their own way and thereby drawn together at the fringes of high school life. Her grandmother’s stories of witches, and her father’s encouragement of her love of music, led Meche to a life-changing discovery.

None of the characters makes it particularly easy to like them; each is troubled in some way, whether by teenage torments, financial straits, relationship strife, or personal differences, but all are so lovingly and carefully written that their humanity engages then grips the attention, the pace and emotional purchase drawing the reader in even while (possibly) reacting against some of the teens’ more misguided and wilful behaviour.

The prose sparkles with energy and enthusiasm; the author’s passion for the subject and her characters glint on every page. The musical references glitter, reflecting the golden years of an eclectic music collection. This feels like a particularly personal story, perhaps only in terms of time and place, noting that there is no suggestion events are in any way autobiographical. All the more credit to the author’s skill.

It’s worth noting that the spell casting here is not of the Sabrina, Samantha Stephens or Eastwick variety; these rites are hard-won and used sparingly, to the point that the supernatural events feel all the more real for their paucity, providing a parallel to the teens’ struggle to relate to the people around them, even their friends.

Conflict—of course—ensues, leaving scars that remain across the twenty years that the story spans, heavily shaping relationships in the ‘modern day’, reinforcing that this is not a story about magic, that witches have nothing to do with the outcome. No, this is a story about people, about family, and about love in which no heart is left unscathed.

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