Alysha Gale leads a double life. On the public surface, she’s just lost her job as a museum assistant and she’s moved back home until something else comes along. But the real story is…she lost her job, and she’s moved back home to her family coven of super powerful, super nosey witches. The Gale family is enormous, with ever-increasing rings of cousins and multiplying children. And they all have the power, some little, some big, to affect the world around them. Alysha is at loose ends right now, thanks to her job loss, and it falls to her to investigate her Grandmother’s death when the family suddenly gets the call that she’s passed away under mysterious circumstances.
When she heads out to Calgary to find what happened to her Gran, Alysha also discovers that she is now the proud owner of a junk shop called The Enchantment Emporium. She soon learns that the shop is much more than a giant bin for ratty old antiques. It has become the center of the magical community in Calgary, with her Gran giving aid and succor to magical creatures in need. Now her Gran is gone, and it’s up to Alysha to find out what happened, organize the shop, help all the strange and dangerous customers, and find out why there are dragons flying over Calgary and what they have to do with an evil wizard and the Gale family. She’ll learn the answers to these questions, and some she didn’t even know to ask.
This is a complicated book, but Tanya Huff does a great job of casually working in important information without info-dumping. You’ve got to pay close attention to catch all the pertinent details of the Gale family witches circles and the mess going on in Calgary, but that serves to immerse you even more in the story. Alysha has been a little knocked around by life lately and it’s made her wary. She’s an interesting character coming from a strange family dynamic. In the Gale coven, boys are prized like precious gold, and girls are a dime a dozen. But it’s the women, the Aunties, who eventually run the family when they grow up. This makes for a large group of nosey, bossy old women hovering over Alysha and her investigation, waiting for her to mess up spectacularly.
Luckily, Alysha is not without friends. There’s her favorite cousin and lover Charlie, who has the special gift of being able to travel anywhere through a mystical plain instead of taking the bus; she’s also a practiced musician. Alysha’s unrequited love interest, Michael, also comes to help after breaking up dramatically with his boyfriend. She makes more friends through the shop, including an ornery leprechaun. Alysha has an organized mind, letting her take a chaotic situation and bring order to it. She also has the ability to ask for help when she needs it, without making herself sound lost. Alysha comes across as strong and powerful, once she starts getting past the bumps and bruises life has seen fit to give her. She learns a lot about herself and what’s she capable of, and manages to grow quite a bit as a character from start of book to end.
My favorite part about this book, though, is the indiscriminate bed hopping. In the Gale family, they like to keep their power within their own bloodlines. This means that you may eventually marry a distantly related cousin to keep the magic going. It sounds odd, but think of it more as a community of witches who all happen to have the same last name then of a closely related family. There are so many Gales at this point, the only ones who can keep track are the Aunties. There is lots of enthusiastic experimentation among the young witches of the family, since they know that they could someday be marrying their playmate. And it isn’t relegated to boys and girls. Alysha and Charlie are hardly the only girls to pair up. The openness and casual but warm feeling they all seem to hold towards sex is refreshing and at times very funny. More people should take notes from the Gale family.
The Enchantment Emporium is a wild ride from start to finish. With so many characters and concepts to introduce, it would be easy for a lesser author to lose her audience. Huff has a deft touch and never gives you more than you can handle. With the revelations and resolutions at the end of this book, I can only hope that we will be seeing lots more of the Gale family, and Alysha in particular.