It’s been a while since I’ve read Tanya Huff. My last experience was over ten years ago with the Quarter novels. Reading the inner page of The Enchantment Emporium with her list published works, it seems Ms. Huff has been very busy since I last caught up with her. That is a seriously long list!
The cover of the Enchantment Emporium makes the book seem much darker than it actually is. It shows a foreboding nighttime street with a shadow looming ominously over a tiny, frightened looking woman. This image is somewhat at odds with the story of the book. Rather than being dark, Gothic, urban fiction, The Enchantment Emporium is a pleasurable light hearted romp. It is a breath of fresh air from the recent crop of gloomy urban fantasy romances that tend to take themselves way too seriously I’ve noticed crowding bookstore shelves.
The Enchantment Emporium is an urban fantasy about the Gale clan, a large, extended family of the magical variety (apparently the descendants of the mating of a human woman and a horned forest god). Alysha Gale, one of the younger members of the family, loses her job in Toronto and finds herself back in the comforting/smothering bosom of her close-knit family, one bound by strange rituals and enchanted pie making. The Gale’s power is tied to the land of their Southern Ontario farm through rituals and bonds of family.
The women of the family are incredibly powerful, able to teleport by stepping into the magical wood that delivers them instantaneously to anywhere on earth. They also have enchanted cell phones that can reach you wherever you are without even dialing a number.
One cool thing about the story is that instead of demonizing older women, it elevates the power and wisdom of the elderly female. It turns out that the Gale women grow more powerful as they age, attaining their highest peak of power after menopause. As a consequence, the family is ruled by the matriarchal powers of “the Aunties,” the most senior female members of the Gale family, who can work the most powerful magics. They try to plan the lives of their grandchildren, in order to breed further magical offspring. Some of the Gale women though, are wild and refuse to be tied down to the farm and family, instead choosing to travel and explore the world.
Alysha Gale’s grandmother Catherine is one such wild Gale. The plot is set in motion when Alysha gets a mysterious message saying her grandmother has died. The will claims she is the sole inheritor of her grandmother’s antique shop, the Enchantment Emporium in far away Calgary.
Alysha tentatively decides to travel out west and explore the situation for herself. Alysha’s mix of apprehension and excitement about traveling so far from the protection of her family is well conveyed through the writing. We feel as she does, both the thrill and overwhelming nature of her first day taking over the business.
As it turns out, The Enchantment Emporium is no ordinary junk shop, but one that deals in magical items. It also serves as a postal address for the local supernatural creatures, including a down on his luck leprechaun who Alysha befriends and installs as her first employee. As more young Gales and friends of Gales (including Alysha’s longtime unrequited love) begin to turn up at the store, Alysha finds herself taking on responsibility for other people for the first time in her life and growing in confidence. However there is still the matter of her grandmother’s disappearance and supposed death to look into. Something is definitely up in Calgary and the magical inhabitants of the city are growing alarmed as news of dragon sightings grow.
When a gateway to another dimension is opened in the center of the city, Alysha realizes that all the increase in magical activity in the vicinity is somehow connected. She discovers that there is a sorcerer in town but why he’s there, exactly who he is and what he wants with Alysha and her family are matters she must find out. Unfortunately, her grandmother seemed disinclined to leave any clues for her before she vanished and with Alysha getting prophetic dreams of the entire city of Calgary being engulfed in flame and there is plenty to keep Alysha busy. In addition, Alysha finds herself falling for the sorcerer’s right hand man, a dangerous magical assassin by trade.
I enjoyed reading about the characters of Alysha along with her surly musician cousin Charlie and powerful brother David. There are plenty of characters in this book and most of them are related. This makes Huff’s ability to grant each of them a completely distinct, unique voice a real coup. I would never mistake Charlie for her cousin Alysha, for example.
I believe that making characters emotionally realistic is all the more important for fantasy and science fiction authors because the situations they place them in are so outside the realm of most readers’ experience. To make it feel real, the character’s reactions and interactions have to have more verisimilitude than in other genres or the whole thing fails to ring true. I completely bought into the warmth and tenderness of the cousins and siblings. The family shorthand they sometimes speak in and the abrupt way they speak with each other are very true to the way people who have known each other from birth really behave together. Their family connection comes across and feels very real despite the fantastic activities the characters engage in.
I have to say that I was a little surprised when I realized that most of the characters in the book having sex with each other (for serious magical workings, a sexual element is apparently required) were cousins. I did find it a somewhat strange that in the context of modern societal taboos, none of the characters from outside the family seemed to be shocked or dismayed at all the cousins sleeping together and marrying each other. It seems like something someone uninitiated into their world, like Graham, the sorcerer’s operative that Alysha falls in love with, would comment on. But maybe working as a sorcerer’s bodyguard and pouring one’s blood into magical bullets inures you to all manner of strangeness.
Anyway, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchantment Emporium. It was great fun and I look forward to the next installment in the series. The next book is apparently about Charlie, Alysha’s wild musician cousin. It looks interesting, although I do hope there is another book about Alysha. I really sympathized with her point of view and personality.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!
Recent Words from Beyond: