The City of Lost Fortunes has an intriguing premise. Set in New Orleans post-Katrina, it’s about the son of a magician finding his way when the local magical authority needs a job done. There’s a lot to enjoy, but it feels like a story that could use editing with an eye to overall pacing.
The writing is descriptive and evocative. The underlying premise of a card game with high stakes is intriguing. Camp seems to be a writer in love with writing, with crafting each sentence with an eye towards building a crystal-clear image. While this can be a fabulous, and indeed desirable skill, in this case description careens out of control. I know, I know; I’m the same person that complained about Morning taking more time to describe a skirt than a door in Darkfever. But it is possible to over-describe, particularly if it is coupled with a lack of action. Let me illustrate, as the protagonist makes it past an obstacle and approaches the house:
“Jude rose to his feet and stepped onto the rot-wood porch, hesitating for only a moment before reaching for the knob. The handle turned, but the door, swollen into its frame, refused to budge. Jude put his shoulder into it and went sprawling into a dark, cramped space filled with cobwebs and the musty, nose-tickling stink of mold. Inside, entropy had long been at work, leaving behind crumbling Sheetrock and exposed brick, years of grime and dust. Jude stood in a long hallway, barely able to make out the outline of a door at the far end. When he reached it, doing his best to ignore the scuttling shapes amid the debris on the floor, he saw that it had been painted, recently, with bright red paint. He pulled it open, his pulse thundering in his ears.”
That is by no means an unusual example; that much detail is used for both significant and insignificant details. I was left with an impression of one active verb per sentence. For instance, though the prior sentence contains a plethora of verbs, it is followed with two paragraphs describing the room and the occupants, while in the third, Jude finally “stepped inside” and “studied.” This is followed by a description of Jude’s reaction to what he is seeing.
Each chapter begins with a entry about a certain story time; creation myths, Tricksters, and draws parallels across traditions. The writing is flowery, beautiful and, dare I say it, virtually pointless.
I think I’m only partially a visual person reader; growing up on mysteries, myths, fairy tales, and a total lack of Brandon Sanderson, means I learned to focus on plot. Eventually my stories also had character development beyond the ‘orphan embracing heroic destiny.’ While Camp attempts to integrate Jude’s self discovery into the story, it feels more like abrupt change in personality. For the most part we are hearing what Jude says about himself, not seeing how he actually acts. His flashbacks, for instance, are like someone at a party telling a story, not reliving a scene, so it feels somewhat unreliable although the scene is described with clarity. You know, when that person says, “I used to be like that, but now I’m not,” and you think, ‘uh, I disagree,’ but keep your mouth shut to wait for the proof.
So. Interesting story but with a somewhat confusing framework and plot that is not made more clear by the variety of myths and traditions. However, a number of immediate conflicts keep momentum until Jude’s predicament becomes more obvious. For me, the last third was very engaging, but I was close to putting it down a couple of times between 25-50%, I think. I just don’t need the scene described so completely to enter a story, and it started to seem pointless to read if I was only looking for plot points. Other’s mileage may certainly vary.
Two and a half stars, rounding up because Camp is a skilled writer. He just needs someone to make him drill down to the story core.
Many thanks to Allie, who joined me on a buddy read for this one, and to NetGalley, for an advance ereader copy. Quotes are subject to change, but I think conveys the style well.