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Right Hand Magic: A Novel of Golgotham by Nancy A. Collins
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0451463668
Date: 07 December 2010 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Tate has broken up with her boyfriend and is being evicted by her condo association. Guess they aren't fond of metal sculptors banging away at three in the morning. But she gets more than she bargained for, when she takes an apartment in Manhattan's weird Golgotham neighborhood...and finds that the intersection of magic and art is a lot more interesting--and dangerous--than she ever suspected.

In Right Hand Magic, Nancy A. Collins portrays a neighborhood in transition. Tate, an artist, is merely a harbinger of that change, but it is coming; Golgotham's essential strangeness is on the verge of being diluted and eventually expunged by an influx of "numps" (i.e., nonmagical humans).

This situation, one experienced in many real-world locations, informs the action and events of the story. Tate only wants a place where she can do her art; however, the denizens of Golgotham (mostly monsters) fear and hate her, not only for being human but also for representing a threat to their way of life. Golgotham is America's oldest, largest and best-known (or most infamous) home for the non-human races that once battled mankind and lost. Now they live in their part of New York, where they have businesses, go to restaurants, attend entertainments and live their lives, albeit in ways entirely unlike their fellow New Yorkers.

Tate gets a taste of how Golgotham is socially and culturally isolated when the movers refuse to deliver her furniture to her new home. They will not enter that neighborhood--so she must rely on her landlord and only friend, Hexe, for help.

Hexe is an anomaly, a powerful sorcerer who refuses to use black or "left hand" magic (like curses). Instead, he's a healer and local diplomat...and, as it turns out, he has heavy connections. He helps Tate settle in and shows her the sights.

But when a young werecat named Lukas breaks into Hexe's property and threatens Tate, all the rules change. Turns out the werecat "belongs" to a criminal overlord named Boss Marz, who runs Golgotham's version of the Mafia, the Malandanti. If they want to keep their young friend free, Hexe and Tate are going to have to take some really dangerous chances--including mobilizing an unusual army and bringing the fight to their enemy's doorstep.

Nancy A. Collins pretty much invented the "Gothpunk" style of modern vampire and werewolf fiction. Google her bibliography and you'll see a how-to and reading list for many current writers; she's one of perhaps the two or three most influential writers of today's urban fantasy genre. Honestly, only Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher could be considered her contemporary peers, while Anne Rice would have been the title-holder before Collins.

Right Hand Magic, on the other hand, is not really "Gothpunk" at all. True, some of the scenes and settings are down-and-dirty, but the character of Tate is that of an artist who comes from money and is not living the worst excesses of a bohemian lifestyle; the story is not about addicts or sordid, petty criminality (with a supernatural bent) in any way. The closest she comes is showing the workings of the Malandanti, who are much like any ethnic gang--they prey largely on their own kind, stay within their territory and use only as much force as is needed, lest they prompt interference from outside. (It's clear Collins has done her homework on criminal groups like the Chinatown and Irish gangs.)

What separates this from Collins's previous work as well is the romance at the core of it. Her heroines have had flings, even serious relationships, in past books but this is maybe the first that deals with two people recognizing something special in each other and working to nurture it. In many ways, it is both a more conventional and more sophisticated story that she's created here.

Tate is a strong young woman who's on the rebound from a failed relationship and some professional lack-of-success. However, she's about to be featured in a gallery opening of her own and just needs a place to finish her work. Along the way, she must deal with her very wealthy family's contempt for her career choice, as well as the hostility of the xenophobic Golgothamites. Only Hexe makes the hard parts of her new life worthwhile, as he helps her with everything from moving in, to meeting the neighbors (including a demonic cat with some delightfully snarky dialogue), to solving the problems posed by an interloper. He's much more than meets the eye, as the readers will soon discover.

The danger in the book is all-too-real, when Hexe and Tate must risk it all for their friend. Collins is especially skilled at portraying the sweaty, nervous moments when everything goes wrong and help is too far away.

As this is the start of a series, however, one might presume that at least a few of the heroes will make it out.

For readers eager to see a very well-done portrayal of a strange neighborhood amid our all-too-mundane reality (well, if New York counts as mundane), this is the book for you.

Recommended.

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