Camp Arcanum

Camp Arcanum

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

The basic story is three men, Marc and his two employees, Eleazar and Michael, go to a new town in order set up a renaissance faire. This new town is full of witches and such, though, and they end up dealing with magical forces. Marc falls for a pretty witch, Brenwyn, but she has a sleazy ex-boyfriend who wants her back (Jeremiah). It’s well-written. The author puts in amusing asides and keeps a sense of humor throughout the book.

Marc said nothing, but he said nothing in a very churlish and hostile manner.

(In response to demons being summoned on the property, Marc says:)
Steve would never get liability coverage if the insurance companies found out.

The flow is generally good and its easy to read the majority of it. The banter between characters is good. I thought the personality clash between Eleazar and Michael was handled well, and even when Eleazar was insensitive (Michael is gay) it felt like it would fit his character, and he probably wouldn’t even understand what was wrong with his actions (trying to make Michael appreciate women).

Action was written well and there were a lot of clever set-ups.

There are some errors, though not enough that it took me out of the story. The biggest one I saw was “We’re men with power tools and were not scared!” because the line was copy and pasted several times with the typo in it.

So, why the rating?

It didn’t always work for me. I was fine with Marc’s movie date with Brenwyn at first, but when flipped out he dealt with it the worst way possible just for the sake of hurting Brenwyn and causing tension. In that situation, where he thinks he might be having a delusion, I understand why he would want to leave, but shouting that he didn’t want to be near her wasn’t necessary. He didn’t even try to make an excuse, which seems like something most people would do. Not even a “I’ll explain later, I just really need to go now”. He went straight to yelling at her. At the same time, she really doesn’t take the hint here or later.

Then he was cutting down trees and pretending they were the witches, including Brenwyn. I get why he would pretend they were the other witches, but why her? Brenwyn hadn’t done anything to make him mad. She invited him out, he had a panic attack, and she tried to comfort him doing it. There’s nothing rageworthy that she did (yet). She invited him to a rowdy movie event with witches. He was warned it would be rowdy and crazy. It turned out to be rowdy and crazy, then he gets mad that it was exactly what he was told it would be.

About Brenwyn herself – at first I was fine with her. Although they had some decent banter, I was never charmed with her, and I pinpointed the reason why after a bit and it got much worse later.

The main thing is that she presents herself as a mind reader, and not a tactful one. She’s constantly saying or doing things that, if she isn’t reading your mind, make it seem like she is. This isn’t charming. Imagine, for a second, if someone hopped onto your computer and started reading all your private e-mails, then came over to you and started reciting things from your e-mails. Would you be thrilled? Probably not. It’s a huge invasion of privacy, and even if you had someone who couldn’t help reading minds they would still have to learn how to handle that in a graceful, less creepy way that wouldn’t send off alarm bells.

Here’s an example: Privately, while discussing with his employees how to hire some workers, Marc says he wants people with “Strong backs and weak minds”. This doesn’t get put in the ad. Later, when he visits Brenwyn, she says that he’s looking for “strong back and weak minds”, the exact same thing he said in private.

Now, let’s give a different scenario. Say you knew a woman who went into a town to do some work. She meets and attractive guy. That guy starts very blatantly mentioning things that she said in private. Would you suggest:

1) She be charmed by his odd behavior.
2) She put on her running shoes and run, run, run as far as she can from the creepy stalker.

Just because it’s reversed and it’s a woman saying creepy, stalker-like things to a man doesn’t make it better. She doesn’t have the right to invade his privacy, and if she can’t help it then she could easily try to at least seem normal. She could have told him the same information without using the exact phrasing that he said in private. It’s like she’s rubbing it in his face that she knows things she shouldn’t, and the book gives her a free pass because she’s ‘hot’.

I mostly overlooked that part of it and could still enjoy the book just fine “because story”, but then she did something that was just heinous to me.

“With some luck,” Brenwyn continued, “I could get you placed in the same room where your brother hung himself. You would have to get used to sleeping without sheets, of course.”

No. No. On what world is this a person you would ever want to speak to again? Marc confessed, albeit admittedly very soon after meeting her, that his brother had tragically committed suicide after a lengthy time suffering from schizophrenia and this horrible incident still haunts him. A good person who has only known him for a little while does not turn around and shove that in his face. On top of that, she does it because of one of these situations:

Marc: Oh, hey, there’s a fire down there. I better make sure it’s safe.
Brenwyn: No, don’t go down there, it’s dangerous.
Marc: Why?
Brenwyn: I’m not going to tell you!
Marc: I can’t just let people have unregulated open flames in the middle of the woods. Tell me why it’s dangerous.
Brenwyn: No! I refuse to tell you things to let you make an informed decision and fully intend to make this decision for you (and then will undoubtedly get mad when you didn’t blindly do what I said)!

Most of the time in things like YA novels you’ll see guys doing this to women. Making a decision ‘for their best interest’ while refusing to explain anything ‘because’, so the female character doesn’t get to make their own choice and if they don’t nod their head and listen to whatever the guy says they get mad, even though it’s their fault. It’s not any more fun when the roles are reversed.

I can understand in books when the villain refuses to share information, but I hate when allies randomly decide to hoard information for the sake of making something unnecessary happen. And guess what? Marc goes to check the fire, and she still doesn’t explain, so her plan of “not explaining and telling him not to go” doesn’t exactly work.

I enjoyed the fight after that, though I didn’t understand why Marc didn’t immediately destroy the second circle that the “man in red” (anyone reading will know exactly who it is the second the fire pit is mentioned) stepped into. He knew to destroy the first circle so they wouldn’t be safe, so why would he let him just hop right into a second circle? Especially when he was up to trouble. There’s no way it could be said that he didn’t believe in any “witch stuff” after what he’d seen. This could have been fixed with something blocking him from being able to destroy the second circle, but as it is he just didn’t.

Then there were nine people in total, Marc took out seven, and five were left standing. That left me confused.

As I mentioned, Brenwyn started out okay for me. The mind reading stuff I thought would have been irritating to deal with in person, and no one likes a know-it-all, but I was willing to overlook it. Then her mentioning the suicide in such a terrible way happened. Then not informing Marc of what kind of danger he was walking into. And then, when he starts avoiding her, she won’t stop coming around, and that whole stalker scenario comes up again.

Jeremiah calls Marc to inform him that he’s an amplifier for magic and that’s why people want him, and that gets him more upset at Brenwyn. He also tells Marc that Brenwyn had cast a charm spell on him. When she finally pops up to confront him in person she acts like he’s not allowed to decide he’s not interested. Not only has she been continually coming around when he’s obviously avoiding her, but when he flat out tells her that he doesn’t want to see her she gets threatening.

“You had best leave the woods as soon as you can,” Brenwyn snarled.
Nothing short of dynamite is getting me off my job site.”
“So be it,” Brenwyn snapped.

Then she summons lightning to hit a nearby tree. At this point I thought the book was going make her just as much of a villain as Jeremiah, maybe even more so – which was interesting! It would have been awesome to switch things up like that, and something I wouldn’t have expected in the beginning. I really hoped the book would let her turn out to be bad. Unfortunately, shortly after that Marc is hanging out with his two employees and says this:

“And she never hurt me the way I did her,” he said finally.

This is the note I made for that line: “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

First, by this point he knows that she was interested in him because he was a magic amplifier (later corrected to “fixing magic”), and it hasn’t been that long so her saying she loves him isn’t convincing in the first place. Second, the way she brought up his brother’s suicide was even worse than the way Jeremiah did. She kept him in the dark about danger, didn’t care if he didn’t want to see her, started threatening him when he told her to go away, and this isn’t even taking into account some of the physical injuries he got because of things that she could have prevented or at least told him something about. In a way she comes off worse than Jeremiah because he’s not trying to act like an angel. Heck, he at least told him the truth about why people wanted him. If Jeremiah hadn’t told him how long would she have strung him along in the dark?

Marc, on the other hand, told her he didn’t want to see her. Marc’s right, she didn’t hurt him the way he hurt her. She did way, way unforgivably worse, which is all forgotten and the book treats this as if Marc did something horrible. He had good reason to be mad at her. Even though her casting a charm spell on him turned out to be false (which then just makes it weird again that even the gay man is infatuated with her… The way they treated her made a lot more sense if it was a spell, and she uses it plenty later so she definitely abuses this power) she still wanted him like a magical accessory and didn’t tell him about it, among other things. Even if he didn’t have a reason to be mad at her, he has every right to decide he doesn’t want to date her. The reason she’s getting mad is because she won’t leave him alone when he obviously and blatantly says he wants to be left alone, and then he gets mad and yells.

From memory, besides the first encounter I described at the movie before, the worst thing Marc did was bring up the fact that she slept with Jeremiah before. Which was really strange. The first time it was brought up it was handled fine and he didn’t make a big deal about it, which makes sense. A 38 year old man should not be shedding tears that a woman he has met had a life before him. But the second time he acts as if she was sleeping with Jeremiah while she was with him, which was bizarre.

I held out hope that how enchanted they were by her would be because of a charm spell but it didn’t happen. Even the text acknolwedges how weird it is with “It was embarrassing to admit he’d fallen so hard for someone he knew absolutely nothing about.“. Instead, all blame for the problems was placed on Marc and Brenwyn was treated as a sweet, pure angel who was wronged.

This made the latter part of the book aggravating for me, because there was such a great opportunity for the book to take a new, interesting direction and it went into something so overused. She mopes. Everyone bashes on Marc for “being stupid”. Including Marc. It gets frustrating to watch everyone blame Marc for… something, I’m not sure exactly what other than “not wanting Brenwyn” or “being mad at Brenwyn because she did things he should be mad about”.

(Said by Brenwyn) “Don’t be cruel,” she said,” as much as Marc has done to deserve it.”

Seriously, what did he do? I read the whole story and the most he did was yell a few things. For some reason there’s no real blame on Brenwyn for anything. Marc tries to make up with her. Etc etc.

There’s an end fight scene with a giant demon that goes fine. There is a girl that Eleazar was having a one-night stand with there. I was puzzled why the three guys from out of town were handling the demon far better than someone who lived in the area. Hasn’t she heard of this kind of stuff all her life? Why was she having a break down? There was plenty of reason to be scared but she didn’t have to be useless. The book even calls her a “hysterical female”. The rest of the fight went pretty well and she luckily didn’t take up too much of the time.

The fight ends with Brenwyn returning the demon to his ‘caster’ (Jeremiah) and Marc being horribly injured. It drags a bit there as Marc gets sent to the hospital and we suddenly get some things from the hospital staff’s point of view. Then there’s more stuff that makes me think even worse of Brenwyn.

Apparently, Jeremiah has killed several people using magic. Some guy named Throckmorton shows up who has been investigating the strange deaths surrounding Brenwyn and Jeremiah. So, he’s listing off things like someone nearly drowning in her tub while taking a shower, someone being mauled to death by a bear, and someone else getting pecked to death by birds:

“…Hodgkiss, mauled by a bear – in the outskirts of Cleveland. Kiyoshi Tayama, pecked to death by a ‘murder of crows,’ as you said in your statement.”
“The inquest said it had to be chickens.”
He went on with no acknowledgement of her little jibe. Throckmorton had no sense of humor.

He is describing horrible, brutal murders. Not just that, but of people she at least had contact with. The book writes it as if I’m supposed to find him bad for not finding this hilarious, but the fact that she’s making jokes about the brutal murders of people she knew does not make me think highly of her. This is another instance where she just comes off as worse than Jeremiah to me. She’s upset that this man investigating deaths that are constantly happening around her had, at some point, thought she was involved. Because not only are people not allowed to break up with her, they’re also not allowed to suspect her of things if people keep getting brutalized or murdered around her.

Then he gets into his suspicions of Jeremiah being involved in the murders, and if it hadn’t already been cinched for me this would have done it.

“So, you won’t do anything to help?”
“You do not know the terrible price for fighting him on his own terms,” Brenwyn said. “I am not afraid of him, but what I might become. It is best to simply let him destroy himself.”

So Jeremiah is blatantly murdering people and her choice of action is, “I’m going to sit and watch and let it iron itself out”? When she went to the movie date with Marc there were three hundred other witches she was hanging out with, and it was established she knew them all and was popular. When Marc fought Jeremiah, there were nine people, including Jeremiah. If three hundred witches wanted to do something to stop Jeremiah, I think they could. And “magically murdering people when I feel like it” seems like a thing they would want to put a stop to.

At least three hundred people should be able to figure this out. She’s condenscending and rude to this guy who wants to stop the murders and then sits around and watches murders happen when she has an army she could raise. Later on she says, “If only I could punish him-“. Considering what the book has shown us, I think she could more than sufficiently punish him if she bothered.

Jeremiah walks in after Throckmorton leaves and sexually assaults her. She retaliates, and it’s treated like it’s a bad thing that she defended herself. I know this is supposed to be some sort of control thing, but you’re allowed to defend yourself when you’re attacked. You are not bad if you defend yourself. You have every right to. I’m not sure why she stayed to chat with him for so long, though.

When Jeremiah goes home the demon that was ‘sent back to its caster’ has finally shown up and torn his house apart. I was excited to see what sort of fight there would be, but there wasn’t one. He doesn’t even really cast a spell. He tells it to go away and it does. That’s it. A bit disappointing after the last fight.

Marc gets healed up by the witches and things end with Jeremiah mad about his house and plotting revenge and Marc recovering in the hospital. It’s obviously meant to go on after that. The overall story was mostly easy to read, it just had so much potential that wasn’t taken advantage of. Unfortunately, Brenwyn’s band of witches never show up for a demon fight or anything. We actually don’t see too much of them. The whole idea of Brenwyn using Marc was brushed to the side to have her be a flawless love interest (or, at least her flaws are ignored by all). At the end, when the demon shows up at Jeremiah’s house, it just leaves.

The writing is enjoyable, so the missed chances can be extra frustrating because I wanted to read them.

This book suffers because it centers around how great Brenwyn is and how she can never be anything but awesome. This sometimes even pushes other characters out of mind. For instance, Michael has just learned that his boyfriend, Lance, is one of Jeremiah’s gang. We never see much of them together but it’s told that they were getting along well. When Michael asks Marc about Brenwyn, Marc answers:

“Can’t you two obsess about your own sex lives?” Marc snapped.

Marc and Brenwyn’s relationship takes the center stage, so they can mope about each other all they want, but when Marc tells Michael to worry about his own sex life right after he found it his boyfriend is McEvil there’s no apology or interest or anything. It seems mostly forgotten that he just lost his boyfriend. The obsession with Brenwyn messes up the book, which is just another reason why it would have been great if the obsession actually had a threatening origin.

There are a lot of unfortunate implications in this book and if you’re sensitive to that I would recommend against reading it. For example, in the beginning of one chapter there was this:

…he had found a lovely Lithuanian communications student with a diminishing facility for English as she reached her maximum capacity for alcohol. They had been able to communicate on a much more primal level…

Upon starting this chapter, my first thought was, “…So, Eleazar raped a drunk girl?” which I doubt was the intention of the author. It colored the beginning of a chapter in a dark light when it began with that. Then there are other things that some people will recognize. The bisexual character being portrayed as highly promiscuous and wanting to have sex with pretty much everyone. Marc, the gay man, “threw like a little girl“.

The one that worried me the most was Michael’s relationships, though. From the beginning Eleazar doesn’t think Michael appreciates the female form like he should and did things like leave blow-up dolls for him. I wrote that off as Eleazar being an idiot. I didn’t mind it too much because it fit his character. Michael started dating Lance, as mentioned before. We don’t really see much of them. But then a woman who works for him, Anietra, catches a beam before it hits his head and smiles at him, and “Michael found himself responding in spite of being her supervisor. And her being a girl, and all.

That instantly struck me as a “No, don’t.” When I hoped it was just him being more amiable towards her it said: He just couldn’t ever tell Lance. Why? He’s gay. It shouldn’t need to be said, but gay men aren’t into women.

It’s not mentioned again in the book. Then, when Marc is upset about Brenwyn and they’re at their base of operations, Eleazar pulls out some stand-ups Michael has created for target practice for the ren faire. The last one uncovered is of Brenwyn.

So – you’re in love with her, too?” Eleazar asked.
“Don’t ask me to explain.” Michael said with a shrug.

Later, when Michael is at the hospital with Eleazar and Brenwyn, Brenwyn touches his hand.

With her hand on his, Michael felt a rush of love and confusion, with just and aftertaste of terror, a mix of emotions he’d only felt since he’d come here to Arcanum.

This plot point isn’t resolved in this book, but I really, really hope this isn’t Michael being ‘fixed’ and liking women. Not only does the book have him show interest in one man and two women, but the gay man turns out to be the evil bad guy and the women are, of course, good and wonderful. On top of the bisexual being the big bad. Maybe it’s not the intent, and I hope it’s not. People who aren’t gay or bisexual, or haven’t been around gay or bisexual people, might not realize that things like the “promiscuous bisexual” are hurtful stereotypes.

Since the plot point hasn’t been resolved in this book I can’t say for certain where it’s going, but I think a gay man reading this book would probably be pinged by Michael’s sexual interests. People have tried to “fix” gay men in horrible, cruel ways in real life, and it’s still a thing (though thankfully becoming less popular these days). Just like lesbians have to deal with the awful thought process some people have that “they just need to find the right dick”, gay men have to deal with the same thing. Like Eleazar in the book thinking he can shove boobs at Michael and he’ll suddenly like them. You wouldn’t think that I could shove a penis in a straight man’s face and he’ll suddenly be into it, would you?

So, to wrap things up, it’s written well, it has a good flow, there’s some nice action, there’s clever banter, but the love interest is treated like a goddess in all she says and does and subjects are brought up or brushed over that may offend some people. You’ll probably be able to tell whether or not this will bother you based on the review.

I give it a 6/10.

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