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.
I first encountered Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities world in her short story Buttons in Jonathan Oliver’s Magic anthology. I was immediately charmed by the premise and the characters and the consequent announcement of Solaris’ acquisition of a full Deadly Curiosities novel was a pleasant surprise. This meant that starting Deadly Curiosities came with certain expectations about its setting, its characters, and its subject matter. And Martin certainly delivered on those expectations with a very entertaining tale of supernatural shenanigans, ancients ghosts returning, and the fight of Cassidy and Teag’s life.
The story is set in the historic and atmospheric city of Charleston. It’s clear that Martin has true love and great affection for this beautiful town and it makes the streets and buildings truly pop of the page. In Martin’s Deadly Curiosities the supernatural is real and ghosts, demons, and immortals all wander the earth. The supernatural elements are present in the world, but most mundane mortals are unaware of their existence and there are organisations that work hard at keeping it so. One of these is the Alliance, a group of supernaturals and magically-gifted individuals that have banded together to contain the more dangerous and evil of their number. The book’s protagonist Cassidy Kincaid is such a gifted individual; a psychometric, she can read the history of objects and even places, if the emotional impressions left by their owners or occupiers are strong enough.
Cassidy is a fun main character. She’s snarky and spiky with a great sense of humour. She’s comfortable in her life as the owner of Trifles & Folly and the occasional remover of spooky items. She’s got a great support system in her friends and neighbours, especially in her best friend and assistant Teag. To be clear, Cassidy is single, yet there is not a hint of romance in the book. The only men in her life are Teag, who’s gay and in a committed relationship, Sorren, her vampire silent partner, and Baxter, her Maltese. I really enjoyed Cassidy’s independent spirit, but appreciated the fact that she knew when she needed help and allowed her friends to help her. She’s still relatively unschooled in her gift and as she doesn’t truly have a mentor to teach her any more, this sometimes makes her gift hard to control and places her in unexpected and dangerous situations.
Cassidy’s main allies in her work taming the spokes, as she calls the haunted items she comes across, are Teag and Sorren. Teag is her assistant, both in the store and her work. He has his own recently discovered gift; Teag is a Weaver, which means that he can created and weave magic using knots, webs, and cloth. But Teag is not just a Weaver, he’s a Data Weaver— he’s incredibly talented at manipulating the internet and other digital data connected to the World Wide Web. Sorren is the silent partner in Trifles & Folly, the partner that set up the store together with Cassidy’s ancestor centuries before. I liked his paternal attitude to Cassidy, which is protective, without ever becoming patronising or creepy. Sorren is also a vampire and Martin maintains most of the traditional vampire traits: intolerance of sunlight, super strength and speed, incredible healing powers, and a thirst for blood. However, he doesn’t see humans purely as food and it seems as if Martin’s vampires can subsist on animal blood if necessary. He’s more of an Angel character than a Spike. There is an amazing amount of history he’s lived through and I’d love to learn more of it in future tales. A last character that I really enjoyed and who deserves special mention is Lucinda. She’s an academic and a root woman and has a strong connection to the Loas, vodoun spirits, who she invokes for protection. She’s such a warm and comforting presence in the narrative and I hope we’ll see more of her in the future.
The plot of the book was well-paced. Every time Cassidy and Teag got close to solving the mystery, it turned out to be only a minor piece of the puzzle or to open up an whole new can of trouble. It allowed for Martin to reveal more and more of her world and of the supernatural elements in it without creating giant info-dumps. While the tension gets turned up every time, it also caused me to check whether I’d misremembered the number of pages left in the book, as it seemed as if the plot would be resolved in the next chapter or two. Inevitable this would be followed with a twist, which meant more problems to solve. To me this wasn’t a problem, but it might be off-putting to those who dislike this sort of thing. Martin manages to work a lot of history into the book and from the author’s acknowledgements in the back of the book some of the historical figures, landmarks, and events truly existed or happened.
Overall, I was a charmed by Deadly Curiosities as I was by Buttons and I found myself being sucked more and more into the narrative the further we got along. The tale Martin spins us is interesting and complex. Cassidy, Teag, Sorren and the rest are wonderful characters and I hope we’ll see more of them in the future. Deadly Curiosities is a strong opener to a new urban fantasy series, one that stands on its own beautifully, but it leaves many avenues open to explore in future books. I can only hope there’ll be many more in the future.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.