The City of Lost Fortunes
by Bryan Camp
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I received this as an e-book free from Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review. My honest opinion is that it's a great debut, and even though I only gave it a 4 on Goodreads, my actual rating would be a bit higher than that, close to a 9 on my preferred scale.
If America is a melting pot, then New Orleans is a cauldron. The Crescent City is a phantasmagorical stew made up of numerous cultures and ethnicities, along with their spiritual traditions and beliefs. Haitian voudou, originating from African legends, vies with various Creole groups, French and other European nationalities mixed with Native American and African. In our world, NOLA is known as a party city, full of music, spicy food, laid-back residents revelling in the magical history of the city. In Bryan Camp's debut novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, it is alive with magic of another sort, although the magic has suffered just as much as the people since Katrina. Set in 2011, six years after the devastating storm, six years since Jude Dubuisson had abandoned his magic, the story revolves around the rivalry of demigods and other underworld beings anxious to be the new "Luck" of the city.
Jude had been trained in basic magic by Eli Constant, but had broken contact with his mentor even before the storm. Above and beyond what he had learned from Constant, Jude had the ability to sense the loss a person had suffered, or what loss was associated with any object he touched. The immensity of the losses suffered from Katrina was frightening, almost unbearable for him, so he hid away in an abandoned building protected by various magic wards to escape detection. He is brought back into that world through an invitation to a poker game, the other participants being the demigod Thoth (known as Hermes in other lands), Papa Legba (Haitian intermediary between life and death), ancient vampire Scarpelli, Dodge Renaud, most recent "Luck of the City," and a fallen angel, whose name I can type using the character map, but for some reason my HTML editor can't duplicate. It's "He" but with a macron over the e. Jude is puzzled as to why he would be invited to participate with such a group, and doubly surprised when the cards he's dealt are blank. Triple that surprise when he wakes the next morning with no memory of what happened after that, only to learn that Dodge had been murdered.
The why of the killing is not hard to figure out. Whoever won the game would be the new Luck. For a time, Jude wonders if he might be the culprit, but clues lead him to suspect another. His first investigation takes him to Celestine Dorcet, a medium whose body Papa Legba had been riding at the game. In her shop he meets Renai (short for Rennaisance) Raines, a beautiful young girl new to the city, but not to the ritual magics of Celestine's work. Shortly after his visit, he learns Renai has also been killed, in much the same manner as Dodge. Everywhere he goes across the city, Jude is confronted with the magical Red Door, the one he went through originally to get to the poker game. He goes through it several other times, each visit revealing another one of his cards, which are not from a typical pack of cards, but instead from a tarot deck. He has to follow the clues in the cards to discover the murderer, as well as his destiny. I could say a lot more about the plot, but I'll refrain because I don't want to spoil the magic. Jude does encounter Renai again, but I won't say how or why, nor will I attempt to explain Salvatore, a spirit guide that at times is in the body of a dog, at others a raven. It is not until very near the end that we learn that the invitation to the game had not been intended for Jude, but was delivered to him by a co-worker/trainee, Regal Sloan, on behalf of their boss, Mr. Mourning. If Jude wasn't supposed to be in the game, and since all the other participants kept telling him he had no chance to win, why did they also seem afraid that he might? Could it possibly have something to do with a mystery Jude might never solve, the identity of his father?
All beliefs, religious, spiritual, magical, are culturally based. Camp does a great job bringing them together due to their similarities. Nearly every diety is echoed thoughout societies. Perhaps that means there is a germ of truth in all of them, but the exactness of that truth may be forever beyond man's understanding. The best we can do is to play the game, hoping the cards will be in our favor. The best you can do right now is to get this book, and enjoy the magic.
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