The first book in a new series by the increasingly prolific Gail Z. Martin, Deadly Curiosities introduces Cassidy Kincaide, a sort of combination antiques dealer, magic-user and crime fighting detective, as she bravely wields the Deus Ex Machinegun to investigate a mystery involving demons, evil wizards, and an ever increasing number of murders. Fast-paced, and full of action, if slightly over the top on the Mary Sue meter, Deadly Curiosities is a bit of a shaky début novel for a series that does have some promise.
Cassidy Kincaide owns Trifles & Folly, an antique/curio store and high-end pawn shop in Charleston, South Carolina that is more than what it seems. Dangerous magical and supernatural items sometimes find their way into mortal hands or onto the market, and Cassidy is part of a shadowy Alliance of mortals and mages whose job it is to take those deadly curiosities out of circulation.
Welcome to Trifles & Folly, an antique and curio shop with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670—acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500 year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market. When mundane antiques suddenly become magically malicious, it’s time for Cassidy and Sorren to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.
So where to begin… I suppose I’ll start with the positives. Deadly Curiosities has a lot of future promise. The concept is interesting, and the idea that places like antique shops would be where various bits of magic would move around makes a lot of sense. The idea that Cassidy is living her normal life which just happens to occasionally include nights spent exorcising hauntings, and battling demons has a very Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe to it which was pretty fun. The magic system in this world is also pretty solid. It attempts to work along the lines that all of the various traditional forms of magic (Talking things like Witchcraft, Voudou, etc) are real and functional and does a decent job of holding true to the spiritual traditions underlying their place in history. Mind you, Teag’s power as a ‘weaver’ which is described as ‘someone who could work spells into woven goods’ also makes him, via the same power, an ace computer hacker…despite the fact that the internet is not actually a web or tapestry in any meaningful way did just read poorly.
The main protagonists are written well enough in terms of personality and dialogue, even if they felt a little…well, let’s get to my first issue with the story and you’ll see what I mean.
Alright, sometimes, an author creates a character that is basically good at everything. They have no real personality flaws, a great number of skills and strengths, and very few weaknesses. The name in writing given to characters like this is ‘Mary Sue’ and in the cases such a character is male, ‘Gary Stu.’ Deadly Curiosities has one of each. Between Cassidy and her sidekick Teag, they have multiple powerful magic powers, and they’re both skilled fighters. Teag in fact is apparently a national-level champion in multiple forms of martial art despite also holding a Masters Degree in History, nearly finishing a Ph.d and working days at the antique shop as an assistant manager, assistant auctioneer, and archivist. Add in that they’re both under 30 and described as quite physically attractive and that’s an awful lot of perfection floating around. Oh, and Cassidy also inherited the shop from relatives, inherited a big fancy house from family, and in times of difficulty, has a 600-year-old vampire buddy to bail her out.
Which brings me again to my universal criticism of Gail Z. Martin. The character Sorren, who guided Cassidy into her life as a mystical crime fighter, and generally shows up to save any day which needs saving, is a 600-year-old vampire. Okay. Enough with the frigging vampires already. I like a good vampire story as much as the next Joss Whedon fan. But vampires have a LOT of weight as an archetype. You can’t just go around throwing them willy nilly into every story because you like them. Soren is the ONLY vampire appearing in this novel, and his being a vampire brings literally nothing to the story. There are the obligatory scenes where he can’t come along because it’s daytime, and when he gets hurt he has to go and feed, and Cassidy and Teag don’t ask too many questions about where and how he feeds, and all the other things that must appear as soon as you include a vampire. But there is not a single thing this character did that couldn’t have been done by a powerful wizard, or a fey, or a shapeshifted dragon, whatever. Branch out. There are other supernatural tools in the ‘kinds of character’ toolbox. You don’t need to go to vampires every time you need something besides a human.
Not that he ended up even being all that needed as a powerful bruiser in the story. Any time Cassidy was in trouble, why, she just stumbled right onto whatever increasingly strong new power was needed to save the day. It seemed at the start that she might actually have some struggles, maybe lose a fight or two, but instead, the rat-a-tat-tat of the Deus Ex Machinegun rattled on, and defeated her foes just in the nick of time. One hundred percent of the time, it works every time. It made the story unexciting, and really took the punch out of the big action scenes.
Now that I go back over all of this, I’m not sure if I stand by my original claim that this new series has potential. It had potential, but I’m really not sure there’s any way to claw back the super powers that make pretty much any future obstacle seem like it will be trivial. It’s a shame really, as this reads more like the Gail Z. Martin who wrote The Summoner back in 2010, and not the more developed-feeling Gail Z Martin of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash more recently, who seemed like she had really fallen into her stride. Overall an adequate book to pass some time and concentrate on the couple admittedly fun bits of storytelling, but nothing to rush out and get on release day.
Dan received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from Solaris via NetGalley.