Momento Mori: A Review of Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities

Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren stand firm against the forces of evil plaguing Charleston in Gail Martin's latest novel, Deadly Curiosities.
Cover art for Gail Z. Martin’s novel, Deadly Curiosities.

Full Disclosure: I received my copies of Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta by winning a contest through Rebel Publishing. Winning the contest was not conditional of agreement to write a review. No purchase was necessary to enter and I have not otherwise been compensated. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

A picture of me holding Gail Martin's novel, Deadly Curiosities. I am always sad when I finish Gail's novels.
I’m sad. I finished Gail’s latest book. I’m always so sad to see them go.

This is the face of abject sadness. Having at last laid my hands on the Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin, I was sad to see it go, passed all too soon, the way all of Martin’s books go. Naturally, I made it last as long as a could, like the final bite of a Reese’s Peanut Buttercup, but no, all good things must come to an end.

Deadly Curiosities is the first novel in what I hope is a long Urban Fantasy series set in glorious Charleston, South Carolina. As residents of the Holy City will most likely concur, having seen the historic Market Square for myself, having walked down Rainbow Row and glimpsed humbling Fort Sumter, and otherwise experiencing the sights and smells of Charleston in Autumn, I can tell you that every mystical inch of Martin’s setting is as real and hauntingly beautiful as she so expertly makes it out to be. I’ve been trying to get back to Charleston ever since I left in 2012, and I was only there for two days! Gail Martin took me back. You can only imagine how sorry I was to leave again.

Mild Spoiler Alert! 

Deadly Curiosities introduces Martin’s audience to Trifles and Folly, an antique store that is anything but your average curios collection. Behind the unassuming facade of an antique store is a set of individuals whose job is to protect the rest of the unassuming world from supernatural horror and destruction. The Alliance and its  teammates have protected Charleston, and the world, from the evil machinations of The Family for centuries. Trifles and Folly’s owner, Cassidy Kincaide, is just one of many magic users, necromancers, mediums, mambos, root workers, and witches in the Alliance’s arsenal of protectors. Together with her assistant manager, Teag, and her silent partner and benefactor–the six-hundred-year-old vampire, Sorren–Trifles and Folly collect items that do not belong in the hands of the general public. Fronting as an antique store puts Trifles and Folly in a unique position to take unwanted items of the deceased and those they leave behind, everything from your everyday garage sale to items whose supernatural residue cannot be ignored.

Antiques are curious things. Myself, I’m partial to antique books. I’m still looking for elusive rare books of mysterious origin whose value has been overlooked by its owners, a fact I can exploit to turn a tidy profit. That’s never going to happen, but a girl can dream. If I were in the market for antique texts, or anything else for that matter, Trifles and Folly would be a good place to start. There are many reasons people don’t want to hold onto old things. Death is a looming, ominous presence in the consciousness of humanity. We are the only creatures on the planet conscious of our own impermanence. We don’t like to be reminded of it. We like our cars running, our houses cooled and warmed, our television meaningless, our lights shining. When a relative or close friend dies, Death is that guy standing in your personal space. It cannot be ignored, and it cannot be hidden. We the survivors are left behind to dispose of the possessions of those who have passed. Some of us keep small things with us, and some would prefer to see all of it burning in a trash heap, what parts of it can’t be sold anyway.

When my mother went through her grandfather’s house, dividing his property up after his death, I wondered at the number of people who turned out to pick through his things. Most of it was useless. He had kerosene lamps from the 1890s whose value I wished I had known in 1994. Cousins and nieces and nephews picked through old pots and pans, picture frames of people who had been dead for decades whom even my mom had not met, books, bed sheets, furniture. My mom took the curios from her childhood, things my Papaw had either given her as a gift or she had acquired over the years, things that took her back to a pleasanter time, when she was the apple of an old man’s eye and the shining star of her grandmother’s world. The Clapping Man was one of her favorites, a token whose value death could not depreciate, a momento mori. The rest of it she sold or trashed.

My great-grandfather had not been a rich man, nor even a man of moderate means. To say he had little is quite accurate. Some are more fortunate to rifle through the attics of the deceased and turn up ancient sets of silverware, stunning and graceful tea sets, handmade furniture and textiles, and what is not needed or wanted is taken to the consignment store. This is where Cassidy and Teag come in. Cassidy is a sensitive girl who can sense the history and memories of an object just by touching it. Teag is a weaver, a person who can see patterns where others cannot, making him an expert hacker, mathematician, and spell weaver. Cassidy’s primary job at Trifles and Folly is to take unwanted antiques off people’s hands, especially those that are “spooky”, or haunted. Those deemed harmless by the team are cleansed and sold. Other possessions that could pose a danger to the general public are taken to a special place where they cannot fall into the wrong hands. It is in this capacity that Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren find themselves standing between mankind and those that would do us harm.

Gail Z. Martin is an expert storyteller, and Deadly Curiosities is far from the usual fantasy fair offered from Martin. Author of The Chronicles of the Necromancer, The Fallen Kings Cycle, and The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, Martin is well-versed in swashbuckling, character-driven Fantasy. Set in the heart of bustling Charleston, the novel is refreshingly modern and diverse, including traditions from people of color that adds a richness of character and depth to the story, traditions that include Louisiana Houdon and South Carolina Gullah. Far from cultural appropriation, Martin effortlessly weaves these traditions and their respective deities and sacred rituals and spells into the narrative. Cassidy is a young woman living a dream most of us would kill for: running her own business and living in her own house. Teag is in a beautiful relationship with his boyfriend, Anthony.  Martin treads territory she is most familiar with. Fans of the The Chronicles of the Necromancer and the Ascendant Kingdoms novels will recall Martin is at her best when she is telling a ghost story. Though neither of those universes can be said to embody the horror element, Martin chills the reader with supernatural exploits and ghostly activity. You have been warned: do not read Deadly Curiosities before bed!

Cassidy is the female character I’ve been waiting for from Martin. Far from a damsel in distress and not relegated to the secondary character lineup, Cassidy is a brilliant business-owner, a kind soul who knows the value of every beating heart in Charleston, and a twenty-first century woman who isn’t about to go down without a fight. Sorren is the quintessential vampire from Martin’s familiar repertoire. It is refreshing to see both characters standing on their own. No Twilight love story here–at least not yet. I’d ship Cassidy and Sorren. Like I ship me and Lanyon Penhallow. Hard.

Deadly Curiosities is a glorious spin on Urban Fantasy that mingles classic Martin storytelling with the treasured traditions of the Romantic American South, complete with the mythic figures and a unique magic system that incorporates all the aspects of new-age Urban Fantasy and weaves them seamlessly with the Houdon and Gullah traditions of Louisiana and South Carolina that will keep readers coming back for more.

Fortunately for us, there is more coming in the next novel, Vendetta.

You can find Gail Martin on Twitter at @GailZMartin, and feel free to put in your requests to join Gail’s grassroots fandom team on Facebook at The Shadow Alliance group page. You can tell them the Squealing Nerd sent you.

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