Written by: Bryan Camp
Published by: John Joseph Adams / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Synopsis: Post–Katrina New Orleans is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known.
Jude has been lying low since the storm, which caused so many things to be lost that it played havoc with his magic. But his retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god of New Orleans is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave. A world full of magic, monsters, and miracles. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.
Conceived as an idea in the backseat of his parents’ car as they evacuated Hurricane Katrina, there is no denying that Bryan Camp’s debut novel “The City of Lost Fortunes” is a very personal tale for the author. Even with the inclusion of fantastical elements such as gods, vampires and magic; the central theme is on the destruction and loss that occurred in New Orleans during 2005, and how the community has attempted to rebuild itself in the aftermath. Speaking through his lead character, Camp illustrates this sense of bereavement for the pre-Katrina New Orleans, using the disruption to his magical abilities as a metaphor for the damage done to the Crescent City.
Camp’s vision of New Orleans is intoxicating, and while this is a highly fictitious interpretation of the city, it captures the very essence of the Louisiana city and its amalgamation of faiths and nationalities. It is a rich, vibrant location in which to set this tale of gods and monsters and Camp does the area justice with his evocative narration, making it just as much a character as the magicians and gods that populate the city streets. There is a smoky mysteriousness and darkness about Camp’s New Orleans that lends itself well to his murder-mystery adventure, as supernatural threats hide within plain-sight amongst the various seams and folds of the city.
Jude, the novel’s charismatic lead, finds himself on the hunt for a supernatural killer with the power to murder New Orleans’ god of fortune. However, the story is so much more than a standard whodunit – in fact, the identity of the murderer is revealed midway through the novel as Camp takes the narrative in surprising places, subverting expectations along the way. I was struck by how densely plotted this novel was, and how some characters were introduced in seemingly minor roles and ended up playing major parts in the narrative as the plot developed. There was a real sense of scale to Jude’s adventure, as he undergoes an odyssey akin to the Greece myths and legends of old. His character development is expertly done, and leaves the reader feeling completely satisfied, especially when he embraces his destiny.
While I’m aware of the Urban Fantasy genre through the likes of American Gods, Fables and Once Upon a Time, I haven’t actually read too much of the sub-genre and I have to say that “The City of Lost Fortunes” is a brilliant way to dip my toe into the water. Camp’s novel weaves a multitude of different mythologies and religions together to create his own distinct world that fits perfectly against its New Orleans setting. I love the clash of the mystical and the mundane, and how Camp populates his version of the Crescent City with mysterious tricksters and bloodthirsty vampires. Things take a decidedly more supernatural turn in the second-half of the book, prompting Jude’s development as a character as he embraces his own origins and abilities, but the novel unites the two worlds together before the end.
Supporting Jude on his journey to self-enlightenment is a myriad of quirky characters that straddle the line between both worlds. I particularly enjoyed Sal, the wise-cracking psycho-pomp, and Regal, Jude’s foul-mouthed former partner-in-crime. The characters are all extremely likeable and help form an eclectic cast of the good, bad and ugly of New Orleans – I’m surprised how well-established they all are, and how Camp fleshes them out with believable motivations and personalities. In the first half of the book, Jude and Regal’s banter helps draw the reader in and keeps them grounded, whilst Camp performs his world-building and establishing grand themes that will come into play in the second half.
“The City of Lost Fortunes” is an extraordinary read, filled with a surprising confidence from the first-time author. Enthralling from the first chapter, Bryan Camp’s novel drags the reader into the seedy secret alleyways of New Orleans and exposes them to the sinister underbelly of fate, fortune and the afterlife. Masterfully constructed, the plot is gripping from the outset and it was a genuine pleasure to witness the mystery unravel after each new chapter. Deftly switching gears from murder-mystery to fantasy-adventure, Camp’s narrative is unpredictable yet smooth – throwing a number of seemingly disparate plot threads together to produce a truly spectacular tapestry at the end. From a purely technical standpoint, I was impressed with how Camp structured this novel, and even more impressed how he managed to create something so intensely readable.
Long after I had bid farewell to Jude Dubuisson and the Crescent City, the events of the novel lingered in my mind – which is always the sign of a terrific read. While it is unclear whether “The City of Lost Fortunes” will kick off a series of Crescent City novels or not, there is no denying that Bryan Camp is a strong new voice in the field of Urban Fantasy, and one I expect to hear more about in the future. In fact, I’ve not felt this excited about a fantasy book since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and fans of that franchise who have long grown up and graduated from Hogwarts would do well to pick up this gem of a novel.