Magic and Loss by Nancy A Collins
Magic and Loss by Nancy Collins (Roc, 2013) is the third book in the Golgotham series and, since the spells which underpin the creation of these stories come in trilogies, this seems to draw all the threads together. Not that the series could not continue, of course. But, for now, we seem to have disposed of the major villain and his cohorts. So for those of you who have not previously encountered this series, a brief summary. Tate is the talented daughter of an immensely rich New York family but, as is required to set the romance ball rolling, she’s at odds with her parents. She wants to be a sculptor — not the common or garden worker of rock and stone — that would be so common. She’s into bending metal bars with her teeth and welding the results together into interesting shapes. This is not quite the type of activity up with which neighbours will put so she moves into Golgotham. This is the not quite ghetto where all the magic folk live. Here she can literally do her Vulcan act and no-one gives a rat’s ass. Naturally she establishes her studio in a house owned by Hexe, a member of the Kymerian royal family and master of right-hand magic — that’s the good variety. Sparks fly. As we come into this third book, Tate is now pregnant so this is the trigger for the final assault on the royal family’s hold on power.
Boss Marz, the local gang kingpin who was jailed in the last book, has now been released from jail on a technicality and is now back in Golgotham to reclaim his turf and take revenge on Tate and Hexe. If I was to jot down the plot outline on he back of an envelope, you would think it had potential. Naturally, Boss is just a front and, when a devious plan springs into action, Hexe is possessed and Tate, somewhat surprisingly, takes off back to her parents — obviously her hormones are affecting her ability to think straight. In the first two books, she was inseparable from her wizard man. Yet just because he attacks her, she runs away. I find this less than credible. Even more surprising is the reaction in the parental household. Her mother actually admits how she came to marry her father which is not very flattering, and the butler who has spent a lifetime in service, hands in his notice and comes back to Golgotham with his mistress. Except he turns out to have a thing for underground oracles and those rather loud shirts men wear to look cool on Hawaii’s beaches.
So the potential of the plot in enabling the possession of Hexe and doing all the usual dire things people do when they are bent on revenge starts off reasonably well. But it slowly breaks down as we get into both the relationship problems of Tate and Hexe, and the relationships of our lovers’ parents. Indeed, the family history is enlarged upon to include grandparents and a significant backstory based on a coincidental meeting between the two mothers before they respectively produced Tate and Hexe. It’s one of these small world plots where everyone either knows everyone or turns out to be related in some unexpected way. There’s also altogether too much information about Golgotham, its culture and its celebratory festival. Far be it for me to suggest this is mere padding. I suppose there are gangs of fans out there who suck up detail and admire the comprehensive way in which this “world” has been constructed. Sadly, I just got bored. In the earlier books, I was prepared to tolerate the romance which has been driving Tate’s evolution from a mere artist with a hammer and oxyacetylene welding kit, into a magician in her own right, able to animate her creations. This is actually quite a cool metaphor. Artists invest their creations with their love so it’s only right they should literally be able to bring them to life. Except, apart from an early flicker and a late rally, very little is made of her magical abilities in this book. She’s much more passive and less confident. It doesn’t feel right given what she’s been through. I would have expected her to show more grit when she’s actually got a lot of power to draw on.
The result is, I’m sad to say, a damp squib. I think this could have been a dark and tense novel, full of thriller potential and several set-piece fights or small battles. Instead, it allows the romance to slow everything down and lighten the tone. I know the urban fantasy subgenre is not supposed to stray into dark territory. It’s the equivalent of the cozy mystery as the opposite of noir or the hardboiled. So all the potential is dissipated with too much exposition and not enough sense of danger for our parents-to-be and, after a quick birth, the baby boy. This is a major disappointment. Although the first in the series was uninspiring, the second managed to produce a genuinely interesting plot idea. Magic and Loss slides back into the genuinely bad end of the fantasy market and, unless you are a fan of the first two, you should not trouble the bookseller to sell it to you.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.