- The Enchantment Emporium
- DAW, 368 pp.
One Person’s Junk Is Another Person’s Treasure
Readers who know Tanya Huff from her Blood, Smoke, and The Keeper’s Chronicles books (or even the Blood Ties show on Lifetime) will find this stand-alone modern urban fantasy right in line with what they’ve come to expect from her. For those of us not so familiar with Huff’s work, a warning: This is not your usual fantasy fare. Not in the least.
Alysha “Allie” Catherine Gale, an unemployed twenty-four-year old now living at home (with few friends and no real job prospects), surprisingly inherits Gran’s strange junk shop/magic store in Calgary. She’s eager to get away from her overbearing aunties, so off she goes. It’s clear from early on that Gran likely isn’t dead, though everyone seems to realize it’s safest to pretend she is (Gran’s reputation as a high-powered mischief-maker has a lot of people uneasy). Once she arrives, Allie—a former cheerleader, a field hockey player, and a girl strong enough to face down a roomful of magic-wielding aunties when she was thirteen—finds herself with more to deal with than she ever expected. Handling the mail for Calgary’s fey creatures (a minotaur, an oversized leprechaun, and river nymph, to name just a few). Dealing with a cursed monkey’s paw. Finding a magic mirror. Stumbling upon Gran’s stash of sex toys in the nightstand.
Allie’s stint as the new owner of The Enchantment Emporium gets interesting fast when the human-size leprechaun she hires is threatened with permanent death thanks to a kidnapper with a Blessed bullet who finally lets him go after a good scare (he’s in cahoots with a nasty-bad sorcerer). Then she discovers dragons flying overhead, a nearby Fey gate to the UnderRealm, and a rogue sorcerer whose personal assassin, Graham (the one who threatened Allie’s leprechaun employee), appeals to Allie enough for her to mark him with a charm that roughly warns everyone with magical skill enough to read it that for all intents and purposes, Graham is Allie’s. Gale girls are like that—attracted to danger and excitement.
At least the Emporium is doing brisk business selling glow-in-the-dark yo-yos.
While Allie’s aunties are known for hunting down and exterminating all sorcerers on principle alone, Allie waits to call in the cavalry on her rogue sorcerer for three reasons. (1) She’s in love with his assassin (who moonlights as a tabloid reporter) and worries he’ll get smithereened as a result. (2) Perhaps the sorcerer isn’t lying when he claims to be the only thing staving off an unspeakable magical apocalypse. (3) Allie hopes that if there’s some hope for this sorcerer, maybe her aunties will leave her Cousin David (a sorcerer himself) alone, though they all suspect that he’s got a bit too much of the dark side in him to be left alone.
Things escalate when the dragon or two Allie has run across turns out to be twelve sibling Dragonlords who are torching every building with the word “wizard” in the store name (those UnderRealm folks are using the phone book and simply don’t quite understand how the MidRealmers operate, thinking sorcerers announce themselves that way). Plus Graham has to make a choice—surrender to his feelings for Allie or steer clear of the Gale girls who radiate danger nonstop. And poor Allie has to continue hiding everything from the aunties, run the store, and keep one step ahead of the magical chaos that’s threatening.
If Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is more your thing—grand quests, bigger-than-life heroes, epic battles, and gruesome, scary beasts—than Huff’s, The Enchantment Emporium might not be your cup of fantasy tea. But it does have a quirky, resourceful heroine (one of Huff’s trademarks). Huff also uses “f*ck” enough to startle even the most jaded reader. And she loads every page with snarky quips like “…the only sound she could hear was a distant horn and what sounded like ‘I Don’t Care’ by Fall Out Boy seeping out of one of the cheap apartments bordering the far side of the parking lot. She was vaguely appalled that she recognized it.” My personal favorite is when one of Allie’s cousins is chatting it up with a Dragonlord about why not to eat humans. “We taste like pork. Eat a pig, have the same experience, no one screams at you.”
A few more random warnings about Huff’s latest:
Warning #1—Pop culture references abound, such as a “Josh Whedon is my master now!” t-shirt, Pizza Hut’s meat lover’s pizza, Han Solo, Ricardo Montalban, Mr. Spock, Smurfs, downloading episodes of “Torchwood,” the cancellation of Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files” after a single season, and a threat to magically induce a nonstop rendition of the theme music to “Mr. Dressup” (a Canadian children’s TV show along the lines of Mr. Rogers).
Warning #2—There are a few lines of French that neither a semester or two of high school French nor the English language context prove enough to decipher.
Warning #3—This book is all about Girl Power. Gran’s a big time user of magic. Allie’s got oomph enough to handle a few Dragonlords herself. And the aunties? The mere threat of them coming to town is enough to send most sane folk running. Yes, some of the male Gales have power of their own, but it’s the women who have the best lines, enjoy the hottest relationships, and really run the show. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a good old-fashioned matriarchy!)
Warning #4—There’s baking. A lot of baking. If you’re not a fan of pies, this might not be your thing.
Huff is a fine writer—there’s no mistake about that. But this feels like the third or fourth book in a series where the situations and characters are already well-known. The first few chapters simply aren’t as clear on character or back story as some readers would prefer, but the tale takes off soon after into a brisk, quirky romantic fantasy that has plenty to offer. For the right type of reader, this book will be a blast.
Ryan G. Van Cleave was the 2007-2008 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at George Washington University. He has taught creative writing and literature at Clemson University, Eckerd College, Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as at prisons, community centers, and urban at-risk youth facilities.
He lives in Sarasota, FL where he works as a freelance writer, editor, consultant, ghostwriter, and script doctor. He serves as Director of CandR Press, a non-profit literary organization based in Chattanooga, TN.