4 June 2019

Review - Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Cover by Julia Lloyd
Gather the Fortunes (Crescent City, 2)
Bryan Camp
Titan, 21 May 2019
PB, 599pp

I'm grateful to Titan Books for a free copy of Gather the Fortunes for review.

This is the second book in Camp's Crescent City series of urban fantasy set in a post Katrina New Orleans. Several years have padded since the events of The City of Lost Fortunes, and while the scars of the hurricane - and the subsequent neglect - have perhaps healed a bit, they haven't faded. In these books, there is a palpable sense of injustice, with racial, gender and economic inequalities bleeding into a palpable sense of supernatural evil. Escapist fantasy they certainly aren't.

Gather the Fortunes isn't a straight followup, it largely doesn't feature the main protagonist of Lost Fortunes, Jude Dubuisson, a card sharp and street hustler who rose in that book to become the Trickster God of New Orleans. In what I'm sure is a wise decision, the new book instead follows another character, Renaissance Raines ("Renai") who featured in the earlier book ("briefly", according to the press notice that came with the book - I'll return to that in a moment).

The reason I think this is a good approach, and one that could usefully be followed more often, is that a second book about the same character so often becomes a recapitulation of the earlier story. Jude grew and changed in that book: fun though he is, it's better to leave him to the world he's joined and discover more about somebody else. And Renai is a fascinating character. Having died and been resurrected in The City of Lost Fortunes, she's now become a psychopomp - an intermediary guiding the souls of the dead on their journey to... wherever.  The challenges posed by her new life feature strongly - living in our world, but not part of it, alive and human but tending not to be noticed by other people unless she interacts VERY DIRECTLY (maybe a metaphor for being female?) and most of all, having to avoid her family - because to them, she is dead.

There are also less tangible issues: lack of memory of certain events, a growing unease at the part she's playing in the whole supernatural ecology, above all, perhaps, the unending cycle of abuse, discrimination and cruelty to which she has a ringside seat. That's symbolised by her latest assignment - which goes drastically wrong - the collection of a young Black man, who is to be killed in a drive-by shooting. Reno's - and her wise talking partner, Sal - lives (if I can use the word?) will be turned upside down by the consequences of this, having to embark on a desperate chase around New Orleans - and its many analogues in various heavens and hells - to discover what has gone wrong, before the time known as the Hallows comes and all the gates between the worlds are openend...

Moving the story on to another character allows Camp to develop his strange, syncretistic fantasy world, overlaying religions, superstitions and belief systems and motivating plot by the similarities and differences between them - so that Egyptian deities morph into Voodoo gods which echo Central European folktales - all intercut with myths, and articles of faith from the Internet age. The geography of world Renai navigates with her departed souls is shaped by all this, impacted by human beliefs and so inevitably etched also by long standing wrongs, oppressions and disparities. Because those, too, arise from human beliefs. It's far from being a simplistic world where the dead are judged for the good and evil they did. There are continuing factions and interests and many of the gods have contrasting - indeed violently clashing - aspects. This is of course where an avowed Trickster like Jude was very much at home, grifting his way from scene to scene. Renai has, it soon becomes clear, much more moral freight to her and so the rights and wrongs of what's going on are held up to more scrutiny. And I don't actually think she was as slight a figure in The City of Lost Fortunes as that press notice suggests - indeed, judging by what we see here I wonder if Renaissance Raines might be the central figure of this sequence of books?

It may contradict what I've said above (I am vast, I contain multitudes...) but I'd welcome more of Ms Raines in a further Crescent City book. Unlike Jude, she doesn't seem likely to settle down for long in the role allotted to her by the Thrones, and I wonder if we'll see more of a War in Heaven in future?

A satisfying, dense and fun sequel to The City of Lost Fortunes which left me wanting more.

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

To buy it, try your local bookshop, including via Hive, or Blackwell's, Waterstones or Amazon.

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