The Curse Merchant by J.P. Sloan
Publisher’s Description: 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.
Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel (in other words, SPOILERS!).
He may not be the “good” guy, but he’s still supposed to be “good” at heart – that’s why I read these books. You might be an assassin like Gin in Jennifer Estep’s The Spider, but you’d better have a good reason for doing what you are doing. Dorian has missed phone calls and ignored his tenants. He appears to have buried himself after whatever happened two years ago – I think that Edgar was right to ask him if he was on drugs.
Well, you know that saying about “the road to Hell,” right? I’m not finished with the book yet, so I may be proven wrong, but I get the feeling there is some cool and sneaky things going on here. There’s an awful lot of talk about Karma; a soul contract has a two-year “cooling-off” period; Dorian did something to upset a lot of people two years ago, and as a reader, we’re not sure yet what that was or even if Dorian remembers what that was. I have to say, the anticipation of what is going to be revealed has me so excited and intrigued I could hardly put the book down last night to go to sleep!
You don’t need to reveal anything to me. As long as things turn out ok, I won’t have a problem. It’s just very uncomfortable for me not knowing. I am this close to reading the ending of the book. I know that is unreasonable because there is a sequel, so I know he’ll at least survive this book.
Yes, it does! But on the other hand, maybe he’s been turned to the dark side and is now a really bad guy. Or what if he doesn’t get back with Carmen (not that I know if he’s even going to try, but still…) Or what if Edgar and Wren decide he’s not worth the friendship effort? What if he’s embroiled in a political conspiracy with Deputy Mayor Bright? Maybe he sells his soul to get enough money to fix up his rental houses? What if??????
Nervous Nellie says…
“The gun inched closer to my nose. I had to watch what I said, or Gina was going to redecorate this cheap motel room in Smartass Red.”
Main characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Dorian Lake is a good character. It takes him several chapters to grow a spine, but that’s usually how first book characters start out. They have to begin somewhere so they have somewhere to develop. His character portrays a “poor little rich boy” well in the first chapters. He had a lot of growing up to do before he could move on to the character at the end of the book. He cried tears a lot more often than any other male protagonist I have ever read. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s just unusually emotionally vulnerable.
Other characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ I’d like to beat Carmen within an inch of her life. Dorian’s BS meter was definitely not working when he hooked up with her. Wren and Edgar are a delight. I picture Edgar as being ‘Cheech’ of Cheech and Chong. They are the kind of friends that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. If Dorian didn’t have them as friends, he would have been toast. The other savior of the story was Reed. I never caught on to ‘The Syrian’. He never once popped up on my good guy/bad guy radar.
World: ♥ ♥ ♥ I liked the world. Several urban fantasy novels portray “black” magic and that is basically what is going on when you practice Netherwork. I’m not sure why you would want to practice Netherwork because it’s not if it’s going to bite you, it’s when it’s going to bite you.
Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I liked the story. I felt very nervous for Dorian through the first 14-15 chapters. He just wasn’t getting it. I am looking forward to the second book, The Curse Servant. I am wondering how Dorian is going to get out of his bind as well as looking forward to more development to the characters that the author introduced.
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ I liked everything. I will read the next book.
Invested Ivana says…
Main Character: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I like Dorian Lake. His heart is in the right place, but he just can’t keep his mouth from getting him into trouble. I can relate. I was never quite sure of his financial situation — he owns an Audi, goes to an exclusive club, owns rental property, and comes off as a little spoiled, but yet still worries about money. He makes some choices I didn’t quite get, too, like going back to the club after just being reminded he promised to stay away. He also seems kind of quick to jump into his mentor’s cabinet after spending an awful lot of time avoiding that very thing. I love how he loves his friends and how he can be loyal to a fault; but when he’s pushed too far, he can be nasty. I love that he sees himself as an agent of Karma.
Other Characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Sloan certainly surprised me with some of the other characters. I never suspected Carmen and the Syrian would turn out to be what they were — not sure if that was good writing or a lack of clues. I’d have to reread the book to be sure. Wren and Edgar are awesome and so good for Dorian. So is Ben. I expected the Deputy Mayor to be sleazy, but he turned out to be decent. You don’t usually see that kind of optimism for politicians, even in fiction. Osterhaus was a dick, which was his role in the story, and I have a feeling McHenry is an antagonist that will show up again.
World: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I like what we see of Lake’s world so far, but a lot was left unexplained. Set in modern-day Baltimore, there is a world of magic that isn’t exactly hidden, but not widely believed. So far, we’ve seen magic-wielding humans but no creatures other than those shadowy figures that stalk the soulless and the Netherworkers. We know that souls are energy, and a commodity. We know that karma is real (here Ivana cheers). We know there is a policing agency called the Presidium, but we don’t know what they do, exactly. In some stories, not having that information really bothers me. I wasn’t so bothered with this book, though — maybe because the story was so compelling, or because I just trusted the author would reveal more in time. I would like to see more of the basic type of karmic charm Dorian is famous for, though. Maybe those would make some good short stories? I enjoyed the references to the Inner Harbor and the Aquarium as I really liked my time in Baltimore as a tourist.
Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ During the first half of this book, the reader is trying to figure out what happened to Dorian two years ago. Why are all his friends mad at him? Why is his memory hazy? This is the part of the book that had me so excited I could hardly put it down! I was hoping for some Sixth Sense type of twisty deviousness. When that part of the mystery is finally revealed, then you get to watch Dorian take back his life and try to set things right. I’m all about karmic justice, as you may know if you read this blog much, and the bloodier the better. I LOVE seeing characters get back what they deserve, so the ending of this book made me really happy. Dorian kills several birds with one stone at the climax, setting as many things right as he can in the end. Another thing I really like is when seemingly throw-away elements of the story are really important foreshadowing. The dragonfly pin, the ticket stub, and the messages on Dorian’s phone, for example, all end up being important details in the bigger story. This is the kind of tight writing that I enjoy.
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ The Curse Merchant is the type of book that makes me thankful that self-publishing and small-press publishing has really taken off; a big publisher may or may not have taken a chance on this story. The only thing keeping this from being a five-heart book for me is that we need more about the world and the magic system. But I trust that will come in the rest of the series. Sloan has crafted a great tale that had me wrapped around its pinkie until the very end. This series is definitely going on my favorites list.
Our reviews in this series…
If you like this book… One Book Two will be reviewing the sequel, The Curse Servant, this coming Tuesday, so watch for it. I might also recommend The Asylum Tales by Jocelynn Drake and The Hollows series by Kim Harrison. No promotional consideration was granted for this review.