Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp
I am grateful to Sarah from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Titan
Published – Out Now
Price - £8.99 paperback
Renaissance Raines has found her place among the pyschopomps – the guides who lead the souls of the recently departed through the Seven Gates if the Underworld – and done her best to avoid the notice of gods and mortals alike. But when a young boy named Ramses St Cyr manages to escape his foretold death. Renaissance finds herself at the centre of s deity-thick plot unfolding in New Orleans. Someone helped Ramses slip free of his destined end – someone willing to risk everything to steal a little slice of power for themselves.
Is it one of the storm gods that’s descended on the city? The death god who’s locked the Gates of the Underworld? Or the manipulative sorcerer who also cheated Death? When she finds the schemer, there’s gonna be all kinds of hell to pay, because there are scarier things than death in the Crescent City. Renaissance Raines is one of them
One of the best things of being a reader is the surprise. A tale by a great experienced author or the debut with the most buzz is all exciting but one of the most fun aspects is that surprise book you picked up just because the premise sounded interesting and then when you read it you’re sucked in and afterwards want MORE. I always enjoy a touch of urban fantasy and mythology so hearing the premise of Gather All The Fortunes by Bryan Camp but I ended up getting hooked, sideswiped and wrapped up in an incredible mix of mythology and storytelling. I have not read the first book in the sequence (The City of Lost Fortunes) but this appears to be focused on a different lead character and a separate plotline (with only a few connections) so will try and stay out of spoiling the previous book.
In modern day New Orleans, we meet Renaissance Raines (known as Renai) who is dead… despite this she now works for Death as a pyschopomp - when someone is due to die Renai is there to gather up their soul; as well as their remaining essence and take them through the gates of the underworld where if they survive the tests they can move on to the next stage in the afterlife. Renai is currently aided/trained by a more experienced pyschopomp in the form of a raven known as Sal who loves old movies; Rani with her leather coat of armour and a motorcycle that can go through busy streets like a knife through butter is a force to be reckoned with. She’s tried to lay low since her resurrection but when a God named Seth asks her to help a kid who’s due to die, she has a small conflict of interest. Quickly the child known as Ramses St Cyr vanishes from the place, he was due to die in an unfortunate accident and some higher powers now want to know where Renai fits into all this.
For the first two hundred pages this felt like an extremely professional urban fantasy thriller. Renai here is the sarcastic pyschopomp chasing cases down – the coat the motorcycle and a sarcastic inhuman companion – all delivered well but not new. But then Camp reaches a chapter where he pulls the rug from under you and shows you why certain unexplained mysteries about Renai are unanswered and it’s done beautifully. At that point I fell for the novel hard because to do that requires skill and bravery and the rest of the novel turns more epic and more fantastical. Without giving too much away Camp has created a whole universe of blended pantheons; with a huge mythology relating to the afterlife which another character we meet later on demonstrates as they guide the souls through their trials. It’s an excellent bit of mythology worldbuilding that despite such an apparent jumble of religions and myths makes sense – a city where storm gods and death gods will occasionally assemble to gamble both money and with mortals to feed their games. Alongside this Camp paints a picture of New Orleans that steps outside the more stereotypical vision I as a UK resident tend to see and instead get to see the highs and lows of life in this town from the areas still marred by Hurricane Katrina (such as the truly terrible sounding theme park Jazztown) to the more bustling parts of town and in the spirit world how these operate or complement each other feels quite unique and Camp isn’t afraid to put social history to task in this – particularly relevant as Renai is an African American woman in a town where racism is still prevalent.
As well as a plot that really works (that I can’t tell you much more about); some fantastic worldbuilding there is also the use of a cast of characters that really feels fresher. Renai is the heart and as the story progresses we see many more sides to her than that original hunter we first encounter; we see her strained family relationships (as everyone she knows believes her dead) and this is a woman who will if she feels needed face down gods often with not much more than a keen brain and a quip. I find her brave and compelling and occasionally frustrating but so nice to see a character who in a difficult situation is prepared to actually talk to another character and sort the issue out rather than all the brooding! On top of this an incredibly creepy internet wizard who seems to fuse magic and technology and a very austere but occasionally helpful pigeon psychopomp that wants to put Renai through her paces. We also see what various Death Gods are like off-duty – and it all seems so plausible. It’s not necessarily new to see gods in America (ahem) with new lives but this take feels fresh and I thought worked very well. By the end the book goes beyond just a thriller and hints at a much more epic storyline that this tale may or may not be a key part of in later books...
I’m incredibly impressed with what Camp achieves in this book. That twist and importantly the way its then handled in the rest of the story made me fall for it hard. Renai is a brilliantly presented character I definitely would want to see more of and Camp’s style while very descriptive has a lovely honest flow to it and he’s not scared to suggest sometimes humans can be just as bad as gods (and vice versa). I’ve already now picked the first book in this series and will report back soon but I do think this novel works for new readers, and I’m intrigued where this Crescent City series is going. Strongly recommended if you enjoy fantasy like Neil Gaiman or Kate Griffin.