By Tanya Huff
Published by Titan Books
I’ve never read anything by Canadian fantasy author Tanya Huff before but, based on The Enchantment Emporium, I need to rectify that state of affairs. She is prolific, having written several contemporary fantasy series (including the Blood Books series, about a human detective and a vampire writer who stop supernatural threats, which was made into a television series called Blood Ties) and a science fiction series, the Valor Confederation series. The Enchantment Emporium is the first novel in a new urban fantasy series – this was originally published in 2009, but Titan Books is reissuing it, as well as the sequel and the as yet unpublished third book.
Alysha ‘Allie’ Gale had been an archaeological research assistant until last week; now she’s back home with the large family of cousins and aunties in Darsden, near Toronto. Until she receives a letter from her Gran, telling Allie that Gran is dead and that she’s left Allie her ‘junk’ store in Calgary, Alberta. However, things are not that simple – the Gale women are actually witches, the store in Calgary is a protected place for the supernatural creatures of the city to use as a mail drop (among other things), and which has a magic mirror in the living area, and the closest friend to Gran is a leprechaun called Joe, who Allie decides to hire as an assistant to help in the shop. When Allie discovers that there is a sorcerer hiding in the city (the Gale women usually hunt down and stop sorcerers) and a much larger and more dangerous threat from the UnderRealm coming through a gate into the city, she has to decide what she’s going to do with her life, her Gran’s store and try to keep her aunties away from Calgary – the aunties don’t like other members being away from the heart of the family, and nobody wants to get on the wrong side of the aunties.
Family is a large part of the book – in addition to Allie, there is her cousin Charlie (short for Charlotte), who plays music in various bands, but who is also able to use magic to work her magical charms and allow her to transport from place to place through The Wood, except when she tries to get to Allie in Calgary; there is Allie’s older brother, David, who works as a criminology consultant, but is a powerful Gale man (there are few Gale men, with the family mostly made up of Gale women), and the aunties are afraid he might turn bad; there’s Allie’s cousin Roland, a lawyer, who comes to help out; there is Michael, her best friend and former focus of affection until he announced that he was gay, who is considered a part of the family. These main characters are all fully fleshed out, three-dimensional people, and the world of the Gale women is an intriguing mix of the mundane (baking pies to the highest quality is a daily chore) and magical (their mobile phones are charmed so they can make free calls and have good signal anywhere). You are thrust straight into this world of casual magic – the first chapter doesn’t take a breath as you are immersed into proceedings (you almost feel like there was a previous book that did a lot of world-building because there is a casualness in descriptions – talk of tracing charms on skin, rituals, first/second/third circles of power – which suggests that you should know this already; it’s the only slight flaw in an otherwise entertaining book, but worth getting through before you get to the second stage of world-building in Calgary, where Allie is like the reader and discovering new things).
The Enchantment Emporium is a very enjoyable read and I really enjoyed the style of writing that Huff uses in the book. There are lots of casual references for geeks – a ‘Joss Whedon is my master’ T-shirt, a mention of Emma Frost, Han Solo, The Dresden Files television show, Captain Jack Harkness – that are thrown in with no explanation, which is just the way I like it. There is a very comfortable way with the setting and the characters and how they interact that makes the book an enjoyable read, immerses you into a world we know but with the supernatural edge and hints at plenty of backstory that leaves lots of questions to be answered in future books, but without leaving you needing to know anything else for the sake of the story you are reading.
There is also the strangeness of the way that sex between cousins seems to be quite normal in the Gale family, as a way for the aunties to keep the power of the Gale men within the confines of the family, and as a way for the Gale men to be re-equilibrated after displays of powerful magic (there is a connection with stags – they have antlers that display if powerful magic has been used; there is headbutting between males in a display of alpha maleness). This is a little unusual perhaps, but this is a world where Gale women can write charms of ownership on friends, do some healing with them, a mirror displays your reflection in an embarrassing or cryptic fashion, and there are dragons – oh, didn’t I mention the dragons? I’ll let you find out for yourselves – you’ll certainly enjoy the discovery in this very entertaining book …