At its best, fantasy fiction is transportive, taking us away from the world we know. Sometimes that journey sends us to alien and mythic realms, but sometimes—as in this trio of powerful new novels—magic can be found in a strange and wondrous reflection of a world we already recognize.
In his stunning debut, The City of Lost Fortunes, Bryan Camp crafts a spellbinding vision of one of America’s most magical cities. In a post-Katrina New Orleans, magician and grifter Jude Dubuisson is adrift, hiding from his exciting former life and keeping quiet about his gift for locating lost items. All that changes when a sudden invitation catapults him back into a world of gods, vampires, angels and tremendous power.
What begins as an enticing introduction to a mythic version of the Crescent City and its characters quickly deepens as Camp weaves through strange haunts and schemes. Indeed, magic is woven into every page with such mesmeric precision that the reader has no idea what to expect next and can’t risk turning away for a moment. Camp takes us through his world with the self-assuredness of a seasoned novelist, leaving no word wasted and no moment of exposition without a little spell twisted into it.
The novel journeys deeper still, beyond its own imagined mysteries and into the unanswered questions of the American experience. The cultural melting pot of New Orleans becomes enchanted, as ritual chalk circles lead to doors, doors lead to hidden rooms, and hidden rooms lead to other realms. As Jude rediscovers a world he left behind, we discover a magical and uncharted landscape that perhaps has always existed before our very eyes.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Camp for The City of Lost Fortunes.
CITY ON THE WATER
In Blackfish City, the first adult novel from Sam J. Miller (The Art of Starving) imagines a rough, cobbled-together future, then brings forth a little magic from its potential darkness.
In a world ravaged by climate change, corruption and other disasters, humanity has reorganized itself into a series of new settlements. In the floating city Qaanaaq—a mesh of intertwined cultures, vastly different income levels and technology merged with raw survival instinct—a group of seemingly disparate characters are united by a single jarring event: the arrival of a mysterious woman, called an “orcamancer,” who emerges from the sea on a killer whale, with a polar bear in tow. Who is she? What does she want? Will she be the city’s doom, its salvation or some frightening hybrid of the two?
As this mystery unfolds, Miller introduces a rich kid suffering from a strange disease, a battered journeyman fighter, a city administrator, a crime lord with bigger ambitions, a gender-nonbinary messenger and other compelling personalities linked by the aura of the orcamancer. Providing one more voice to the narrative, a mysterious guidebook seems to function as the voice of the city itself. As these varying points of view take their turns telling the story, an addictive tale of redemption and hope emerges from a grimy future.
INTO THE WOODS
What Should Be Wild, the magical debut novel from Julia Fine, begins with all the makings of a dark fairy tale. There once was a girl named Maisie who grew up in an old manor house on the edge of a strange forest. Maisie was born with the power to kill living things and resurrect dead things with a single touch, and so she was locked away by her anthropologist father, who considered her too dangerous and puzzling to be allowed to explore the outside world. When her father goes missing, Maisie’s mixture of curiosity and concern sends her on a journey to the heart of the forest. There, she discovers a dark curse that has plagued the women of her family for centuries.
What follows is a captivating tale that explores the fears, desires and mysteries of growing up through the clouded lens of a dark fantasy. Fine begins with elements we all recognize—a girl with strange powers, a dark old house, a mysterious forest that could be waiting just beyond our doorstep—and delightfully warps them until a new tale emerges. Maisie is a complex heroine worthy of the story’s luxurious prose. In telling her story, Fine reveals her own gift for walking the tightrope between the universal truths of human experience and the hidden magic within those truths.
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.