My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Dorian Lake spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed.
He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy.
His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own.
As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.
This book starts with a bang. From the first sentence, we know we’re in for two things: a snarky narrator (and it’s no secret I adore a snarky lead) and a gritty, rough-around-the-edges kind of read. And neither disappoints.
Dorian Lake crafts hexes and charms fueled by the karma of the person purchasing them. But he avoids anything involving the darker arts of the Netherwork. That is, until an old flame reappears and pulls him head-first into turmoil. Now, in order to save Carmen, Dorian has to find a way to replace her soul, all while evading detection from both his rival — the man responsible for Carmen’s predicament– and the Presidium, who essentially police the use of magic.
One part gritty police procedural/spy novel, one part supernatural thrill-ride, The Curse Merchant is definitely intriguing. I found the world building to be generally well-done, with lots of attention paid to the history and back-story of both the craft and the characters. The structure of the story was a bit disjointed in places, as the narrator has a tendency to drift down memory lane, but the wit and tongue-in-cheek sarcasm more than made up for that. Fast-paced and full of twists and turns, Sloan definitely knows how to keep his audience hooked. But I found his take on magic, especially the karma angle, to be the most intriguing. It was refreshingly original.
I wouldn’t recommend this to readers who prefer their books to be clean, as swearing and violence are both very present. But for those who don’t mind a little grit in their fantasy, this book is a great find. With a lead character whose charm and integrity endear him immediately, and a plot that will have you questioning your own sense of morality, The Curse Merchant is everything a great urban fantasy should be. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I felt it could have been a little better edited. But that’s no reflection on the author’s talent, and doesn’t sway me from recommending his work to fans of the genre.
**Disclosure Statement: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **