Right Hand Magic: A Novel of Golgotham by Nancy A Collins
It’s always good to get the technical stuff “out there” before I start on the book itself, so here goes on the difference between “in media res” and a “frame narrative”. To get a story up and running fast, many authors and screenwriters like to start in the thick of things and then, as the immediate impact dies down, engage in a few explanations or flashbacks to show how we got into another of these fine messes, as Laurel and Hardy might have bewailed. The other extreme is an ab ovo narrative that moves chronologically from the beginning to the end. This should not be confused with framing where there’s a primary story to set the stage and introduce the secondary story or stories. The example usually relied on is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales where we have the pilgrims making the journey and telling each other stories to pass the time. But I prefer to mention Hyperion by Dan Simmons as one of the best modern examples.
In Right Hand Magic: A Novel of Golgotham by Nancy A Collins we start off in a New York that apparently accepts the reality of the paranormal. Politicians and other humans rely on the magical services of the folk who live in Golgotham or exploit the fear surrounding it to make money (as in Triple-A Aardvark Moving Company’s scam). Now I confess to being inexperienced in the ways of the urban fantasy world. The theory says these are usually set in contemporary times but have supernatural elements. So our hero lives and/or works in a city and battles “evil” in its many forms but, in most of the books I’ve read in this sub-genre, the existence of these supernatural threats is largely unknown. We are only let into the secret because we sit on the shoulders of the hero as he or she wades into the fight.
Now I have no problem with urban fantasies set in, say, Elizabethan England because there were large swathes of the population that believed in the reality of the fey. Indeed, Shakespeare seems to have made a fair amount of money out of urban fantasy with such classics as A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the fairies have fun with the Athenians. So, to me, The Silver Skull by Mark Chadbourn fits together without needing a backstory.
Yet Nancy Collins launches into anything but a contemporary New York. We have a war a thousand years ago which left an uneasy truce, but we get very little information about why it was fought and how it was resolved. When you drop a reader in media res, it’s sink or swim. In this case, we do all the sinking with no real effort from Nancy Collins to tell us anything about how or why we have come to this state of affairs. As we arrive in modern times, all we know is that humans view the supernatural community in much the same way as we view gypsies, i.e. that they are responsible for most of the prostitution and crime in our towns and cities. To prove them right, there’s even a wizard mafia called the Malandanti. Fortunately wizards, who call themselves the Kymerans, are easy to identify. They have an extra finger on each hand which comes in handy when they are manipulating the aether to produce a fireball or trying to reach that one spot on your back it’s most difficult to scratch. All the other communities from leprechauns to valkyries (New York is a truly international meting pot for different beings) are reasonably easy to identify. This even applies to the were folk. All you have to do is poke them with a sharp stick and await transformation into something hairy. There’s a joint policing agency to help keep the peace.
The practical reality is that Nancy Collins has gone through the motions to produce a romance for women readers of a sensitive disposition. There can be nothing truly scary. Everything must ultimately be safe and the type of book you can curl up with on a dark night with a box of chocolates and go “Aaaahhh” as the young couple go through the courtship ritual and end up with safe sex at the end. As an aside, I was shocked this sex was out of wedlock but, when you’re writing fantasy horror, you have to take risks, be edgy. Anyway, this is the story of a rebellious heiress who’s a heavy metal artist, making sculpture out of car parts and just starting to attract the interests of the investor buyers. She has just one problem. Her approach to making these works of art matches Thor with much hammering on sheet metal and using the welding lightning to hold the pieces together. This doesn’t go down so well with the neighbours in adjoining apartments. So she moves across town and takes a room in the home of a wizard. He’s the hot-looking hunk with the bedroom eyes and the twelve fingers that can reach. . . Well, she finds out where they’ll reach when they finally consummate.
Now I’m not saying the plot is poor. In fact, with the right treatment, this story of illegal pit-fighting run by a wizard mafia could have been really entertaining. But the whole experience is completely deflated by the publisher’s script which involves suggesting danger but actually keeping everything cuddly for young women who’ve been force fed a diet of The Twilight Saga and/or Mortal Instruments. Indeed, I would go so far as to say some of it is dull. So Right Hand Magic not something I would actively recommend.
This book was sent to me for review.
There’s a mildly amusing Golgotham website put up by GoBOO (the Golgotham Business Owners Organization) at http://www.golgothamonline.com/index.htm