Book Title: The Curse Merchant
Author: J.P. Sloan
Series: The Dark Choir #1
Category: Urban Fantasy Noir
Length: 83,000 words
Source: Author for FMB Blog Tours. No remuneration was given for this review — it is my honest opinion about the piece.
Dorian Lake has 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.
Take a dish of urban fantasy magick, a splash of Harry Dresden, and a big dose of old fasthioned detective noir with a splash of Hermetic magick thrown in, and you have THE CURSE MERCHANT, by J.P. Sloan. I absolutely LOVED this book! As a fan of the Dresden Files, I’ve long lamented a really good, relatable, and yet gritty male urban fantasy “hero,” and Mr. Sloan has brought us one in Dorian Lake. Dorian is grumpy, sardonic, whip-smart, and uber-talented, but not exactly the sharpest tack in the box when it comes to common sense. He’s an interesting character. His dark past is different from your average noir character, but I won’t get into the details of that here. There are a lot of Whoa! moments in the book that really add to its enjoyment as you get to know Dorian.
I was hooked into this story right from the start, simply because the noir aspect that starts us off quickly slides us into a more paranormal world, adds rich characters that manage the flavor of both, and swirls the whole mixture together into a murky shake that is sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing, and often terrifying. While you can feel that this is the first book in the series — there is a LOT to learn, Mr. Sloan is adept at making that learning fun. No giant info dumps here. Plenty of mystery, and you’re always on your toes, never sure who is what, who can be trusted, and who, if anyone, will survive.
One of the things I loved was that I got a rich, full sense of backstory, as if I’d read books full of it. I felt like I knew the characters mentioned, as though I’d read the scenes and events described and lived through what Dorian went through to get to this point. That takes some skilled writing. It was also fascinating to see all the standard noir characters, from the wink-wink bartender to the femme fatale present, but playing roles in an urban fantasy setting. So clever!
Mr. Sloan has really started something amazing here, and I for one can’t see what Dorian gets up to next!
I am a storyteller, eager to transport the reader to strange yet familiar worlds. My writing is dark, fantastical, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, and other times hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed. I write science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, and several shades in between.
I am a husband and a father, living in the “wine country” of central Maryland. I’m surrounded by grapevines and cows. During the day I commute to Baltimore, and somehow manage to escape each afternoon with only minor scrapes and bruises. I am also a homebrewer and a certified beer judge. My avocations dovetail nicely!