Review – The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
What started off a potentially wonderful urban fantasy quickly devolved into a confusing, squicky, incest romp. And it’s not even erotica, so it definitely doesn’t get a free pass.
The plot was intriguing at first. A young witchy-woman at a crossroads in her life, just lost her job, not sure of her direction, finds out her black sheep grandmother has disappeared. Assuming the grandmother is dead, she inherits her shop. So she heads off to take over the business and investigate her disappearance. It could have been a fun, romantic, magical mystery about self-reliance and finding your path in life, but things just went down hill instead.
First, two good points. It was nice to see a Canadian setting. Makes a break from US locations. The magical system was nice, which involved the sketching of charms, on objects or in the air. It seemed believable enough that these Gale women could really be living among us, and I was originally quite liked the nature of their rituals, which hark back to the less sanitised version of witchcraft that existed in real life.
But, as this developed, it soon became the biggest flaw of the book. Because, if you’re a Gale, incest is indeed the best.
The Gale family is largely matriarchal. The aunties, who act as the family’s leadership, have decided that keeping the magical power of the family strong is of the prime importance. So, their bright idea, because they’ve clearly never studied genetics, is to essentially force their offspring to breed with one another. Yes, all the cousins must have marry and produce children. And none of them object to this. And part of this breeding programme involves all the cousins sleeping around with each other from about fifteen until they settle on someone they’re happy with.
Ignoring any questions about the morality etc of this arrangement, which, let’s face it, being forced to breed with your cousins is essentially a form of sexual abuse, it’s biologically impossible. After generations of inbreeding, double cousins would begin to arise. Double cousins are as genetically close to each other as half-brothers and sisters. It’s unlikely that their offspring, if successfully carried to term, would be healthy and fertile. As this process repeats, the genes degrade and more dangerous recessive alleles begin to recur in detrimental numbers, increasing the number of diseases and birth defects present. If keeping the family powerful is their outcome, they’re going the wrong way about it.
Then, the nature of this power itself. It is generated and grounded by sex, so the characters either have to bone each other to make some magic (which is basically the finale) or have to bang each other afterwards in order to dissipate all the power they’ve raised (which is essentially the second big battle in the book).
There’s the scene that all the other reviews are quoting, which needs little explanation of how horrifying it is:
“For pity’s sake boy,” Auntie Jane snorted as Dimitri shuffled carefully into the kitchen, “there’s salve for that. Use it before these trousers rub you raw. Downstairs bathroom. And you lot,” she snapped at the girls who gathered round the table as he left the room, “stop giggling. He didn’t get in that condition all on his lonesome.”
Allie pulled a platter of pancakes out of the oven were they’d been keeping warm. “He needs to learn to pace himself.”
This is the elderly aunt of a teenager telling him to put lotion on his chafing erection which was prompted by his female cousins, as another cousin says he needs to pace himself as he sleeps around with the female cousins.
But my favourite disgusting line of the book is this little exchange:
“How did he get those things into the car…”
Charlie rolled her eyes. “…I had to blow him in the parking lot and bring them down a little, or he’d have been walking back.”
So, in this scene, a non-magical character asks how another character, a Gale boy, managed to get his magical antlers into the car, since they were so big. The Gale girl responds by telling us all that she performed virtually public oral sex on her cousin so he could fit in the car. I’d just make him walk, personally.
The sex in the book, putting aside the issue of taboo, was neither covered in depth enough to be titillating, nor crucial to the development of either the plot or the character. It was unnecessary and often vulgar.
The main character was supposed to be kind and caring, but this portrayal fell totally flat. Instead, she was self-absorbed and arrogant, and everyone was supposed to be thankful for her behaviour? She also puts spells on people without their permission for no good reason and is completely unprofessional with a reporter character in a scene that would be blatant sexual harassment in a male on female situation. She also (view spoiler)[ realises the guy she fancies is working for the bad guy, and has sex with him anyway (hide spoiler)].
One particular issue I had with her was the treatment of her best friend, Michael. She’d been in love with him since she was a teenager, but then Michael realised he was gay. However, she decides that she can change him, in an incredibly uncomfortable scene, even to the one point of holding him down with her body and groping him, trying to initiate sex, because “maybe he’ll like it?”. Then, when she says she’s over it (she’s not really), she is dismissive of all his boyfriends, but also wants him to go back to the cheating boyfriend that broke his heart. She leaves him out of all the action, because he doesn’t have powers, but he’s good enough to fix her house up for her? Then, in a completely WTF scene, he admits that he knew she was in love with him all along (this is supposed to be a surprise, even though she’s pretty much told him a hundred times) and then she accuses him of playing her, patronising her, and then she hits him with her powers. He flies across the room and it’s said outright that if he’d wasn’t such a big guy, he would have been seriously hurt. And, in the end, Michael is the one apologising to her?
I also had a few issues with the writing that a decent editor would have picked up a mile away. The author began to introducing characters for the sake of introducing characters. You can tell that she wanted to develop this into a series, but the characters that she dumped on us could have waited until the second book. Many of the characters were virtually one dimensional or pointless. I struggled to tell the difference between her brother David and her cousin Roland, and was totally unsure why her best friend Michael was even there. Kenny the coffee shop owner? Would have been cut if I’d been reading the draft.
The book often jumped from scene to scene without any explanation. Like in one scene, they are driving back from the airport, and in the next, the shop is on fire, but its not explained how or why that happened. The dialogue read very poorly, and it sounded like the author was trying to imitate the way young people speak to one another (seemingly for episodes of Buffy) and failing. Often, the writing lacked clarity, and didn’t always convey the gravity of the situation, or why certain things might be bad. Therefore, it was hard to engage with the central conflicts of the novels.
A major plot point was Allie’s refusal to call the aunties for help, even though she was totally out of her depth and needed their help. I understood her desire to be self-reliant, and then Huff did introduce a fairly compelling reason for not calling them mid way through, but for her to just capitulate at the end and call them? It seemed so stupid.
By the end of the novel, I cared for none of the characters or if the dragons burnt down all of Calgary. It had promise though, and my edition had a very pretty cover.
My video review: