The Crescent City Novels
by Bryan Camp
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
1. The City of Lost Fortunes / 2. Gather the Fortunes
Once again I have created a new page to combine a previous review with a new one that continues the story. I'll delete the original page for The City of Lost Fortunes later. I received e-book ARCs of both titles from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I later purchased the first book, and I'm sure I will do the same for the second, which in several ways is even better.
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, and laid-back residents revelling in the magical history of the city. In Bryan Camp's debut novel 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, Celestine's niece and assistant, just beginning to learn the ritual magics of her aunt'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.
I received an e-book ARC from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Later, Edelweiss gave their approval too. It's only been a year since I read City of Lost Fortunes (scroll up to read about that), but since I've read nearly a hundred other titles since then, some details of where we left off with a few of the characters was fuzzy. Right now I'm wishing I had re-read it before tackling Gather the Fortunes. I love both books and will be re-reading in the future, but for now I have too many others to get to, including other ARCs. I debated whether to combine these reviews or give the second book its own page. Jude Dubuisson gets a few brief mentions, usually in a negative context, but he has just two very short appearances, once in Part 1, then not again until the epilogue. The main character is Rennaisance Raines, who had been killed early in the first book. I still won't give details of how and why she's still around, but will say she is now a psychopomp, a guide for newly deceased souls to the gates of the Underworld. As he did in the first book, Camp begins nearly every chapter with descriptions of various gods and demi-gods, and the many afterlife beliefs from different cultures. Souls are presented situations that most closely resemble their own belief system, although I'm not sure what would be experienced by those who have no specific belief. Renai is apprenticed to Salvatore, a more experienced psychopomp. Sometimes he's in the guise of a raven, sometimes a dog. Renai's job is to retrieve a soul's fortune, which is in the form of a gold coin. She then gives that to Salvatore, and he accompanies the soul on its final journey.
Even though she's dead Renai inhabits the real world, but with special magics, including a "ghost word" which renders her invisible to mortals. Even when visible, people's gaze tends to veer away from her. One night at a bar she is approached by a man who is obviously some other kind of spirit. He hands her a slip of paper with the name Ramses St. Cyr on it. He wants her to look out for him and help him if possible. A couple of days later, she hears his name on the Deadline, a in-between stations radio broadcast she listens to each morning for her next assignment. She had not told Salvatore about the man who gave her Ramses' name, and she goes to the specified address without consulting him either, but he has a way of tracking her anyway. They witness a drive-by shooting, but none of the kids on the street were shot. They look toward a house that was in the line of fire, Ramses' home. Only he's not there, so it seems he was able to side-step his appointed death. Renai is determined to find him and reset the balance of what was supposed to be. It is only a few days until The Hallows, the magical time from Halloween until All Soul's Day, November 2, when tradition holds that the barriers between the real world and the underworld are down, and spirits can mingle with the living. She is separated from Salvatore, but meets another bird spirit named Cordelia, whom she assumes is another psychopomp. Together they search for Ramses, with little luck. Part 1 ends at midnight on Halloween. When the gates to the Underworld open, Salvatore comes running out to attack Cordelia, and Renai sees her spirit self walk out of the cemetary as well.
Part 2 goes back several days, showing events from the perspective of spirit Renai, who is also a psychopomp in training to Salvatore, although she has more to do and is able to travel deeper into the Underworld while leading souls to their ultimate fate than her real world counterpart is allowed. At first I thought this was an alternate take, that maybe Part 1 wasn't actually real, or the spirit world part wasn't real, one of them being a fantasy in Renai's head. No, both are happening on parallel tracks, with some events similar but slightly different. Spirit Renai is also approached by someone, either a different spirit, perhaps a different aspect of the same spirit. His message also pertains to Ramses, only this time the story is that he stole something from one of the gods. When The Hallows begin, both halves of Renai are joined back together. At times it is difficult for her to hold two separate memories in her head, but eventually they are able to work as one. Ramses is still missing, and it is learned that this is not the first time he has been able to avoid his appointed death. Who is helping him? Has he sold his soul to a devil to avoid death? Twice? The how and why of that mystery is convoluted and unpredictable, with dangers around every corner, but Renai is up to the challenge. She has to be manipulative and deceptive, even lying to her allies at times, but proves to be as strong-willed as any of the gods in her path.
I don't really believe in an afterlife, but if I'm wrong I want to meet Renaissance Raines at that time. She's both physically and mentally strong, as well as compassionate, with an abiding love for her family and the life she left behind. It might be hard to believe that a book that is so much about death is also very much life-affirming. Camp weaves through the worlds of mortals, gods, and demi-gods like a scholar, with bold strokes of exposition and vivid imagery, bringing New Orleans to vibrant life, in both the real world and the spiritual. Both of these books are highly recommended, and I dearly hope this is not the end of the Crescent City series. Even if it is, I'm anxious to read anything Camp produces in the future.
Would you like to contribute an article on your favorite SF, Fantasy or Horror book?
Just email me.
We would appreciate your support for this site with your purchases from
Amazon.com and ReAnimusPress.