Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Family of Magic: A Review on The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

Alysha Gale has the same problems that most early twenty-somethings have in life. She’s lost her job and had to move back home; she’s in love with her best friend, Michael, who happens to be gay; and she has way too many Aunties determined to tell her what to do. It doesn’t help that the Gales, or specifically the Aunties, have the power to make charms and control their surroundings with a kind of power they like to keep close in the family. So when she gets a letter from her estranged grandmother detailing her inheritance of a junk shop in Calgary, Alysha figures her best bet is to move forward and investigate the shop and the supposed death/disappearance of her not so beloved Gran. Once she arrives of course, things really start to take off and Alysha is left with the decision of either dealing with the new developments on her own or bringing in her Aunties to rain down the power of the family on their new opponents.

It’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts about the latest book I had up for review on my list, The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff. I thought it would be easy. The author was one of those that I read and re-read constantly in high school. When The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff was released a few years back I really wanted to pick it up immediately. However, for reasons I can’t remember, I never procured a copy of my own. At a Half-Price Books here in my new hometown I finally bought a mass market paperback edition and spent 3 days devoted to reading the book.

And then re-reading the book.

Not because the book was so brilliant. I had to read it again but because I needed to go back and try to garner as much information as possible in order to understand the story. Other reviews have it right; there is some major backstory plot points missing in this book.

So rather than your average review, I have a list. I’ll start at the top, numero uno, at what I liked best about the book and work my way down. Fun times, right?

NUMBER ONE!! Our lead, Alysha Gale, is pretty good as a main character. Once she gets out from under her family’s thumb, she has the power and frame of mind to take charge, investigate and adapt to her surroundings. She shows that she has a kind heart when she basically adopts a leprechaun named Joe, who appears to be in his late teens but may be older than he looks. She proves that she has a good sense of humor when she deals with the many questionable items her wild grandmother left behind. And her relationships with her cousin Charlie and the new man in her life, Graham, are interesting. However, once she’s back with all the family, all bets are off. Get to that in a moment.

2. Joe – I liked Joe. Poor guy has had it rough being left behind in our world as a changeling years ago. He’s tough to get through to and a bit difficult to gain the trust of, but he’s loyal. Kudos to the fact that he understands that being a changeling means his real family abandoned him in our world for the amusement of keeping a human child with them in his place. Once said child grew up and passed away, Joe received the call to return home. And then said screw them. After all, they didn’t want him to begin with and he’s perfectly content to remain in Calgary, the only home he’s ever known. He’s the perfect new companion to help Alysha gain her footing in her Gran’s junk shop. He understands the goings-on that Gran has kept on the side and while it takes some persuading, he eventually accepts a place in the junk shop alongside Alysha. Thank goodness he did because other characters aren’t as likable as he is.

3. Charlie – Charlotte “Charlie” Gale is Alysha’s favorite cousin. She’s known as a “wild power”, one of those members of the family who doesn’t have the urge to settle down. These wild powers mostly choose to wander around unconcerned with the familial obligations of being chosen by a “Gale boy” (more on that later) and producing the children that make up the numbers in their family all in the name of pursuing their own calling. But Charlie always returns to one person, her favorite cousin Alysha. Charlie comes in and out of the story at various points, providing either the comfort that Alysha needs or swift kick to the ass to get her moving again. Sidekick doesn't do Charlie justice, but she's the kind of character most would like to have standing behind them. That makes her pretty good in the long run as far as these characters come and go.

4. Graham Buchanan – Our main romantic interest is provided for by the appearance of Graham, a man with a questionable job and not so kind motivations in getting to know Alysha when she moves into her Gran’s junk shop. He presents himself as an investigative reporter for a tabloid magazine of sorts but that’s only one facet to him. There are other interesting aspects to Graham but unfortunately it’d be SPOILERS to give more details on that but his relationship with Alysha is solid enough with it’s necessary ups and downs as they navigate their way around a new romance. He has some redeeming qualities and just one fatal flaw. Take from that what you will.

And now for the not so good stuff. My first main problem with the book is only at the top of the list because it’s what opened the novel.

1. Where’s the backstory? I’m heading into this book thinking I’m going to get just a bit of info to explain Alysha and her MANY cousins and I get bupkes. Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch. I get the word "Aunties" thrown in at one point and I end up confused because guess what? “Cousins” and “Aunts” were part of the world Huff created in The Keeper’s Chronicles, whose lead character Claire Hansen kicked major ass. But the terms I knew there don’t apply here. In The Enchantment Emporium Huff quite literally means Aunts and cousins the way everyone does, which is as terms of familial relationships and not titles of power like they were in say for example, Summon the Keeper. (Sidenote: Claire was known as Aunt Claire, and her position and title meant that she had the power to mend holes in the fabric of the universe that allowed for metaphysical entities, i.e. ghosts, goblins, hellhounds, etc., to bleed through. Awesome, right? And if you’re anything like me, that little tidbit about that book has piqued your interest enough to find a copy of your own.)

Instead, I end up with Aunties and cousins, and mentions of rituals and charms and the idea that these Gales have the power to change lives and do so when necessary. But I don’t get any info on why they were given these powers or even if their rituals are meant to do anything that actually benefits anyone or if they’re just a matter of being flashy in the book. Which leads to…

2. Gale Boys. Big whoop, in my opinion. Over-indulged frat boys on one hand (at least when they're young) and serious holders of the Gale family power on the other. Because it’s not common for boys to be born to the Gale family, as they are mostly girls, hence the Aunties, when a boy is born in the Gale family it’s a big freakin’ deal. These boys need to be kept an eye on and the Aunties ensure that these Gale boys learn to harness their magic. They are doted on constantly, no jokes about it, and to tell you the truth, because of the lack of backstory, I really couldn’t care why. I just thought they were a bit…ugh really. David, Alysha’s brother, is the major Gale boy in question during the events of this novel and the Aunties are as desperate to keep him in line as Alysha is to keep her brother safe and happy. But thanks to a lack of backstory, I didn’t really get the whole devoted sibling vibe out of Alysha and David. Alysha and Charlie, sure, but the relationship with the supposed big kahuna, over-protective brother? Not so much. And Gale boys lead to…

3. Slightly icky sexual relationships between family members. I’m not kidding. If you’ve read other reviews about this book, and I mean the ones that gave 3 stars or less, they’ve mentioned the ick factor concerning the sex between cousins. If you’ve stuck with me this far you’ll remember how I mentioned that the Gale Aunties like to keep their power close. You’ll also remember how it’s rare for boys to be born in this family and how their females dote on them. Which all adds up to the fact that the Gale boys choose a Gale girl to settle down and eventually procreate with but not until after they’ve worked through their list of the Gale girls they want to “try out” first.


I tried, believe me, I tried to get past it and yeah, the book does mention that the Aunties try to make sure that family lines are never too closely crossed when their Gale boys settle down with the Gale girl cousin of their choosing. But the fact that there is a list for each of these over-indulged boys just seems squicky. It’s like these boys are little emperors and their list equates the Gale girls on that list to essentially a harem. And some of these girls are willing to do whatever it takes to secure themselves a Gale boy. Even Alysha takes part in all this bed-hopping, which doesn't limit itself between guys and gals, so maybe there's power there for these poor Gale girls in that sometimes they choose another Gale girl to settle down with. But back to Alysha, this is why I say she's better off without all the family interference as all bets are off when she's under their immediate influence. It’s all just a matter of family to them and while I was willing to overlook that, since the family lines are monitored, I started to wonder if maybe they weren’t always so careful. Charlie and David were supposedly considered too close at one point in the book to "join together", supposedly, but then Charlie makes a squick comment on page 376 of the mass market paperback edition that just made me go “blegh” and begin to question the logistics of this family’s intermingling yet again. Once more, a more inclusive backstory could have helped here. Actually, scratch that, it would definitely have helped here. And just another note, there is something seriously wrong if yet another mention of icky sexual relations between cousins in this book has me starting to roll my eyes in response. Seriously. Very wrong. In the back of my head Invader Zim's Gir is saying, "I know, I'm scared too." That's how wrong.

After all that, the main conflict to this novel just never really took off for me. I got that there was an imminent threat that Alysha was dealing with but that didn’t start to take center stage until about half way through the book. There was more time spent dealing with family issues than the big bad which just made it all anti-climactic by the end. And then there’s some serious dealings with Alysha and her commitment to her big brother David’s happiness that I just didn’t feel invested in emotionally. By the end I just thought, “okay, oh well” and finished the book.

So would I recommend it? Maybe, but I send you towards the book with my list in mind. Maybe it’ll float your boat. Maybe you’ll hate it. I’m basically sitting on the fence leaning precariously over towards the side of the not so keen on this book. Which sucks since I bought the sequel The Wild Ways, which focuses on Charlie, and realized that I was just getting even more of the same ho-hum, oh well, kinda okay, maybe not so much, kind of story.

Rating: 5 Stars

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