Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon hit their stride in the second book of their Hidden Cities series. As of this writing, there are going to be at least four novels, hopefully more because they do a bang up job of presenting each city and dousing it in eeriness.
The first book, Mind the Gap, is set in London. The Map of Moments is set in New Orleans only a short time after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the city. The news coverage of that event was so stark that images still haunt most of us. I distinctly remember pictures of bodies floating in the water and alligators swimming into the city. My wife and I had been there before the hurricane, so it was really strange to see New Orleans in such a state of disarray.
The authors play on that history without going over the top. Those horrible events run as a constant undertone throughout the book, but Golden and Lebbon never take advantage of that horror. Instead, they use the threads of magic and dark anticipation that have always been linked to New Orleans to weave their own mythos and chills.
I enjoyed the atmosphere the novel tremendously. Even in the daylight, the book feels dark and moody. Every house and every place of business seems to offer a threat. Max Corbett, the protagonist of the book, won my sympathies as soon as he stepped onto the page and I discovered he’d come back to New Orleans to bury the woman he loved.
The story turns more tragic immediately when I found out Gabrielle had cheated on Max, and he still didn't understand why. That confusion over how he’s supposed to feel about Gabrielle’s death is terrific and really had me hanging. But before I could figure out how I really felt about that, before Max could figure it out for himself, things got really strange.
In an almost Twilight Zone kind of moment at the cemetery where only Max and two other people showed up to say their goodbyes, an old man named Ray corners Max and offers him a chance to save Gabrielle. I loved how Max was deserted at the cemetery and had to accept a ride from Ray. Once that happened, I knew he was on a course with destiny and darkness.
That’s just the beginning of Max’s journey. He’s given a magical potion and a magical map to track down “moments” from New Orleans’s history. All of these ventures into the past lend Max magic that he’s supposed to be able to use to save Gabrielle. Even though he doesn’t believe that can be done, he feels he has to try. The first “moment” feels like a drunken vision and he isn’t sure whether he actually experienced it.
However, the men chasing him are real. And they want to prevent him from using the map. As dangerous as the “moments” are, remaining in New Orleans is just as dangerous.
Golden and Lebbon do a masterful job of presenting the chase and the discovery of the darkness lurking in New Orleans’s history. I ended up reading much of the book at night when the house was quiet, and I think that really lent itself to the overall experience. So if you can get somewhere quiet, with darkness all around, except for your reading lamp, The Map of Moments is a wonderfully creepy experience down streets littered with dead and dark things.