The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Alysh Gale is 24 and jobless. Lack of funds ended the museum job she loved and has forced her to return back home. It is during this time she receives a mysterious letter from her estranged grandmother. The letter tells her she has inherited a store in Calgary, and must go and maintain it at once. The disappearance of the grandmother needs to be looked into, so the family agrees to let Alysha go and mind the store in order to solve the mystery.
There is a thing writers do to explain the world in which their story takes place, or to provide some history to the characters. This is called exposition, and some of it usually takes place at the start of a book. Exposition is important since it provides a foundation for the entire story. Too much exposition can be boring or tedious, but not enough can be disastrous. The Enchantment Emporium has no exposition at all. The story just starts and you’re left to figure things out from context. That might have been OK if the story was of a normal family in a setting you are familiar with. Unfortunately there is nothing normal about the Gale family or the world they live in.
The Gale family is governed by a collection of “Aunties.” The Aunties make all decisions regarding the family and generally give everyone, including each other, a hard time. Alysha’s return home coincides with a Gale family tradition called “Ritual,” so the house is abuzz with family coming home for the event Apparently “Ritual” is also rutting season for male family members, and their ethereal antlers are on display. Stay with me, it gets better. Family from all over the country are coming home for “Ritual,” and you meet around thirteen of them in the first few pages of the book. The Gales are a close family, so close, in fact, that they regularly have sex with one another. Cousin on cousin action is par for the course.
Throughout the beginning of the book, Alysha is often on the phone with other people. Her conversations with these people are sometimes used as narration. In one such scene Alysha has just entered the store she inherited from her Grandma and is “investigating” her disappearance. The person she is chatting with whilst rummaging through her grandma’s drawers is Michael, the gay love of her life who is now living with his boyfriend somewhere far away. The conversation goes as follows:
I don’t care if one of them looks like yours, I’m not even considering the word interesting as a reaction to a drawer full of my grandmother’s sex toys.
I ejected the CD, put it away and slid it back into the glove compartment. I turned on the radio and began to contemplate this review.
Tanya Huff has a lot of fans, and is obviously a talented author. The Enchantment Emporium is regularly given 4 and 5 star reviews. Our very own Ruth gave it 4.5 stars. I am quite confident the problem with the book is actually a problem with me. I can see no other explanation. I feel like I just tried to read the greatest book ever written and it’s in a language that everyone understands but me. I will probably lose sleep thinking about this book and wonder how I failed it. Maybe the context for this novel is in other Huff books? Tell me Tanya Huff fans, why isn’t this book as terrible as the opening chapter makes it out to be?
I took away at least one positive from my experience, and that was Teri Clark Linden. Teri is the voice actor of the Brilliance Audio version of the book. Teri captures the individual personalities of the many characters very well. She uses a Canadian accent for the Aunties that is both amusing and charming. The bickering amongst the Aunties around the kitchen is how I imagine the Palin household might sound like around Thanksgiving, “Dontchya know.”
Allie Gale is one of many daughters in a modern day matriarchal clan of witches in Toronto. The Gales are incestuously close, all except for Allie’s grandmother, who had escaped the confines of the family and had set out on her own. When Allie’s grandmother mysteriously dies and unexpectedly bequeaths her business in Calgary to Allie, she is surprised to find herself the proprietor of a junk shop filled with magical artifacts, potions, a translucent leprechaun, and an autographed photo of a minotaur. Trying to discover what happened to her grandmother, Allie stumbles upon a slew of UnderRealm creatures, a suspicious sorcerer, and flock of dragons circling overhead. That’s when the story really gets moving.
The Enchantment Emporiumis a fast and fun read. The characters, from Allie to the almost innumerable Aunties, to the leprechaun Joe, are well drawn and interesting. The Gale family is numerous and complicatedly intertwined, but provide an entertaining cast of characters to round out the action. One of my favorite things about this novel is the collection of Aunties who run the family. Their interactions feel true to life. The prose is witty and the banter fast-paced and laced with pop culture references, making me actually laugh out loud on more than one occasion. There is a liberal dose of sex, violence, and language, landing this book firmly in the PG-13 camp, and while it is vulgar at times, it is never overly graphic.
I had two main problems with the story. First, the system of magic is not well explained, and the action unfolds like the reader already knows all the intricacies of the system. This left me a little confused about one of the main sources of conflict — whether or not David, Allie’s older brother, should be required to join the first circle against his wishes. While most of the questions are finally answered by the end of the novel, not all of them are. My other main problem was with the dialog. There is a large cast of characters who spend a lot of time talking. However, there is a lot of floating head dialog which left me having to go back and reread several times trying to figure out who was talking.
All in all, The Enchantment Emporium is an enjoyable new urban fantasy and, I hope, the start of a new series. Though the story is all tied up in this volume, it is easy to see the seeds of future installments being sown. The Gales are an entertaining bunch of characters and I hope I’ll get to find out what they get up to next.
Yeah, Huff’s definitely an acquired taste, and I agree that she just throws you into the middle of the story with absolutely no exposition. I was lost for quite a bit. I actually checked to see if this was the second book in a series since the author assumed a lot of previous knowledge on the part of the reader.
I’ve had mixed results with her. I read the first three Quarters novels a few aeons ago and liked them, though I thought the tone varied widely–Sing the Four Quarters felt like a book where the story kept getting sunnier as it went along, while Fifth Quarter and No Quarter were pretty gloomy and spooky. I’ve tried a couple of her urban fantasies and just couldn’t get into them for some reason.
I liked Tanya Huff’s vampire series and I read this book but thought it was just OK. i read it but it’s not something I’d read again. i felt like I was reading the middle book in a trilogy.
Yeah, looking back, I’m not quite sure why I rated it as high as I did. Was I a new reviewer then? I know it wouldn’t get a 4.5 from me now. I’ve definitely gotten stingier over time.
Ruth, we can fix that (we can change the rating).
I have mixed results with Huff. I *love* the Keeper series but thought the Wizard of the Grove stuff was pretty poor. I thought “Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light” was urban fantasy at it’s best, but couldn’t get through “The Firestone”. I’m kind of glad people are saying they’re having problems with this because I thought it was me. I’m about 80% of the way through the book and am still very confused about a lot of stuff; judging by the reviews here, I still will be when I get to the end. The floating head dialogue is just downright annoying.