Book Review: The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
I recently picked up “The Enchantment Emporium” by Canadian fantasy author Tanya Huff. The book was advertised as urban fantasy, which is a sub genre that I particularly enjoy, so I had high hopes for the book. It certainly did not disappoint.
“The Enchantment Emporium” is in essence a coming of age story. It features Alysha Gale, also known as Allie, a 24-year-old member of an extensive family of magicians, the Gale family. As the book begins she is recently unemployed, lovelorn and directionless. She is in love with her best friend who, unfortunately for Allie, is gay and in love with someone else. She has moved back into her parent’s home and is living under the scrutiny of her many “aunties” who are the most powerful magicians in the family. She is summoned away from the family home near Toronto to live in Calgary when her grandmother, a wild auntie who moved away from the clan, apparently dies, or perhaps just disappears, and leaves her store to Allie. Allie is quickly up to her eyeballs in sorcerers, dragons and fae living in Calgary. With the help of her brother, two cousins and some friends she begins to settle into a new life and through the process of sorting out the mystery of her grandmother’s possible death she finds her own true love, grows powerfully in her own magic, and saves the world. By the end of the story she has established a new branch of the Gale family out in Calgary and has taken the city under her protection.
Ms. Huff doesn’t offer much in the way of exposition, so you figure out how the family works as you read along. This is confusing at times as the characters refer to "charms" and “third circle” and “ritual” and you don’t have the background detail to understand the significance of the comments. Most of the confusion is cleared up by the end and a fascinating world is painted of powerful men and women keeping their own in check. For me, the mysterious comments were intriguing and kept me reading along, but I could imagine some readers finding it frustrating. The book is not a romance novel and does not have sex scenes but it is very open about the character’s sex lives. Some readers may find the sexual mores offensive. I would definitely not recommend this book to someone from a strict or fundamentalist religious background.
I particularly appreciated the relationships between many of the characters. Many of the characters were old friends and bits and pieces of their history together were dropped into the story, much like piecing together a quilt. It was clear that these are people who are comfortable with each other and fully support each other, an idealized fantasy version of what a large family could be. Although all of the younger generation characters complain about the aunties it is with the slightly playful, slightly fearful, very affectionate attitude you might have towards a strict but beloved teacher or mentor. The aunties, for their part, correct and harass the younger generation but seem fully willing to allow them to grow and make decisions for themselves. At the climax of the book the aunties support Allie in her effort to protect Calgary in her own way despite her departure from tradition.
While “The Enchantment Emporium” is not on the level of works by Charles DeLint, Ms. Huff delivered a rapidly paced, entertaining read that was well worth my book budget dollars. I will plan to purchase and read the sequel “The Wild Ways” which features one of the secondary characters from “The Enchantment Emporium.” Which is one of the best endorsements I can give a book: I'm voting with my dollars to read more!