22 April 2018

Review - The City of Lost Fortunes

Design by Julia Lloyd
The City of Lost Fortunes
Bryan Camp
Titan Books, 17 April 2017
PB, 477pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for a copy of The City of Lost Fortunes.

Post–Katrina New Orleans is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known...

A delightful, syncretistic mash-up of urban fantasy, mystery and redemption, The City of Lost Fortunes explores the health and secret life of New Orleans. Set six years after Katrina devastated the city, the hurricane and the ham-fisted emergency response dominate the book, with houses still showing the ghostly "X" that indicated they had been searched for survivors and with a psychic hangover, too: the event robbed the city of its Luck, its Voice and its Magician - not at once, but in the lingering aftershock of the crisis.

Without them, it is vulnerable in so many ways.

None of this matters to Jude Dubuisson, ex apprentice magician, potential demigod, and general fixer for the mysterious Mr Mourning. He want to put the whole thing behind him. Little problem there: Katrina did something to his magic, laying him open to its effects as never before, and now he spends most of his time trying to bleed it out with as little pain as he can.

So he's not best pleased to receive a summons from Mourning - but you don't ignore Mr Mourning...

Thus begins a rampaging quest taking in tarot, religious symbolism, magic, fate, the gods, an angel, a vampire, Jude's eccentric mother and much, much more. Through it, Camp shows a mastery of the city - its music, religious traditions, history, food and culture. Jude lives and breathes those things and through him, Camp shows them to us. If you ever wanted a tribute to a living, breathing city, it's here.

And there's more. Each section begins with a potted summary of an aspect of religion, piling on the contrasts and similarities between traditions drawn from across the world - because all traditions find themselves in New Orleans. It will be Jude's task to navigate through the alternatives and paradoxes as he pursues his own quest.

Exactly what that quest is, what's really going on, the actual stakes for which the game is being played - and who is playing it - only emerges slowly, at times frustratingly slowly. There were moments when I didn't completely follow Jude's or the narrator's reasoning about what was going on. I'm not sure whether that was intentional - there's noting wrong with maintaining a mystery until the right time -  or whether I was misunderstanding stuff I was meant to have got, but either way the effect was to pace the story very well, keeping a great deal in play till the very end while revealing some important, more personal, history about Jude as the story proceeds.

The book is, I think, in the end a celebration of New Orleans - what is has been, what it is, what it can be - as well as an inditement of what has been done to it: there are plenty of sharp-eyed opportunists here who want a slice of the city's body for their own uses, and unprotected, she's ripe for the plunder.

The fact that it all works both on that level, and as urban fantasy, is a credit to Camp's writing and the themes he explores mean that his postscript setting out the origins of the story is genuinely enlightening and informative.

All in all an epic, compulsive read and a rather unusual addition to the canon of urban fantasy.

For more about the book, see the publisher's website here.

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