Review: The City of Lost Fortunes

With mysticism emanating from every page, Bryan Camp paints a stunningly deceptive post-Katrina New Orleans in his debut, The City of Lost Fortunes. Deities from all walks of mythology weave among the realms of the living and dead as humans go about their days.

Camp's protagonist, Jude Dubuisson, exists in both the sphere of mortals and that of gods. He's never met his father but possesses a special gift passed through their shared lineage; he can find lost things. This ability serves him well in conjunction with his earthly role as a magician. "A brush of his fingertips against a hair left on a pillow and he knew the lost child's name, knew that she was hungry and cold and alone, knew that she was locked in a basement in Ohio.... This power had lived at the core of him, became the foundation he'd built his life upon."

That foundation is turned on its head when Hurricane Katrina hits the Big Easy. With the chaos, destruction and all-around havoc the storm inflicts on New Orleans, losses are everywhere: people, things, dreams, futures. Jude is overwhelmed by his power and the sheer magnitude of destruction. "Eventually he'd figured out that if he didn't touch anything or anyone... and if he released a trickle of his magic every few days, he could manage, just barely, to stay sane."

Jude remains quietly in his corner of New Orleans until the Fortune god calls in an old debt and summons him. Jude follows the cryptic directions to a decrepit shotgun house hidden in the Garden District. Here he finds five deities around a card table, with an open seat for him. But the game they're playing is unlike anything Jude's ever experienced. " 'The game tonight is Fortunes. Nothin's wild, everything's open. Prosperity trumps calamity,' " Dodge, the Fortune god, informs the players. A vampire antes up with human teeth and the deck of cards is tarot.

Jude wakes the next morning with no idea how the game ended or how he wound up back in his own bed. Relief floods his whole being until he learns that at some point between his blackout and the morning, Dodge was murdered. His quiet existence is shattered as he's pulled back into a world he's tried so hard to leave behind.

Camp succeeds in creating an alluringly magical fantasy realm, and he also knits it seamlessly into the reality of a vibrant New Orleans. The two worlds overlap each other like transparent layers and combine into a luminous landscape that beckons the reader with its bewitching charm. The various gods spanning time and belief systems send the story's tendrils snaking far beyond U.S. cultures, embracing universal concepts for life and death, mortal and god. And throughout the exceptional complex plot Camp gives us vivid, morbidly riveting characters, dark humor and hair-raising suspense. The City of Lost Fortunes is a composition as stunning as the music that springs from its Louisiana setting. Play on, Bryan Camp, play on. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Shelf Talker: A murder mystery wrapped inside a fantasy novel set in New Orleans, with a cast of wickedly imaginative characters and a demi-god who's endowed with the power to find the lost.

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