The blurb tells readers that Ayuamarca “marks the debut of a prodigious talent” and is “reminiscent of the best of Clive Barker and lain Banks”. I’m afraid not. The story is set in a South American city ruled over by a ruthless, murderous gangster known as the Cardinal. He maintains an army of enforcers and his will is law. Into this world steps the young ambitious Capac Raimi, come to join his uncle, himself a minor villain on the periphery of the Cardinal’s criminal empire. Raimi seems far too scrupulous for a life of violent crime, but nevertheless finds himself taken up as one of the Cardinal’s proteges, indeed a possible successor. He has no idea why, and neither do we. Not a particularly inspiring plot, but in fact the slow pace of the novel, its poor characterisation and the unlikeness of the gangster world all compound the problem. What we have here is an exercise in magic realism that is neither magical nor realistic. The pace does pick up in the second half of the book when Capac Raimi goes in search of his origins. He is prompted by the way some of his acquaintances seem to disappear without trace, indeed as if they never existed. This is a neat idea, but poorly executed. For the first time, though, Raimi begins to display some ruthlessness, some capacity for murder. He still does not convince as somebody deeply involved in organised crime, let alone as a potential boss of bosses. At last his origin is revealed, but far from being a startling or exciting revelation it is very much a ’so what’ damp squib. Ayuamarca, the first volume in a series, was never going to be a great book. It could have been much better, however. The story is too strung out, it should have been substantially cut, tightened up and the pace quickened. Instead O’Shaughnessy and his publisher have opted for a multi-volume debut. Very disappointing.