Tate, a young New York artist, needs a new apartment right away. She makes metal sculptures out of car parts and other odds and ends, and it seems her landlord isn't too happy with the noise level. Tate discovers an available room at a reasonable price and jumps at the chance, even though the building is in Golgotham, New York's magical neighborhood.
Golgotham itself is a fantastically intriguing setting and the best part of _Right Hand Magic_. It inspires a sense of wonder akin to what you might have felt when first discovering Diagon Alley. Nancy A. Collins stocks Golgotham with a wealth of detail, from leprechaun pubs to secret subway tunnels to huldra strip clubs to Tate's new landlord, Hexe, a handsome sorcerer. I wish Golgotham were real so I could go there and wander around for a day. Golgotham traces its history to a centuries-old conflict (and resultant prejudice) between humans and the magically-gifted, Technicolor-haired Kymeran race.
Tate and Hexe, it turns out, are both scions of wealthy families trying to make it on their own rather than coasting on their famous names. They learn they have a lot in common, and a cute romance begins. They court danger, though, when they take in a teenage were-cougar who has escaped from a fighting arena owned by Golgotham's magical mob boss.
_Right Hand Magic_ has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it's always nice to see an artist heroine, and I love the way Tate's work eventually ties in with the main plot. And if you don't think you could become emotionally attached to a statue, you might be surprised!
On the other hand, there's some clunky dialogue and several scenes around the middle of the book that don't seem to advance the story much. Most problematically, Tate is underpowered. She isn't able to do much during the climactic scene, a scene that ends up requiring several dei ex machina. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in the first book of a series. It's not uncommon for a character to start out on the weak side. I'm worried, though, about whether Tate will have a chance to -- pardon the RPG terminology -- level up. The way the world is set up, there's a fundamental divide between Kymerans, who can use magic, and humans, who can't. It doesn't appear that humans can simply learn magic through practice. She doesn't have mundane fighting skills either, and the one way she does contribute to the final fight -- while admittedly awesome -- is something that can't be done on the spur of the moment and requires Hexe's assistance.
The Golgotham series shows a lot of promise. The setting is fascinating, and it's peopled with interesting characters. I only hope Collins will find a way for Tate to become stronger as the series goes on.