Angel Zamora has always looked out for numero uno, even after getting sent to prison for robbing a convenience store at knife point. But now two crazy feds show up to tell him he has undeveloped magic. And they want him to inform on a group that has been recruiting and disposing of magic users. When Angel agrees, he expects to play the feds until he can make his own escape plans. However, once he's inside the mafia and developing his Talent, he starts to realize that he's not as concerned about his own skin as he is young Matteo. The only son of the mob boss Mr. Luschese, Matt is even more trapped than Angel. His hot temper, disdain for authority, and deeply in-the-closet attitudes are all so familiar that Angel aches for the young man. A relationship that starts with Angel seeking one more potential advantage quickly turns into Angel's worst nightmare--a deep sense of commitment to another human being. Escape routes are closing, and Angel fears he is going to end up one more body dumped in the river...and if Angel plays this wrong, Matt could die with him.
Dear Lyn Gala, I really enjoyed the previous books in this series. Darren, Kabon and the rest of FBI Talent team were such wonderful characters and Darren’s spirit guide Bennu stole my heart. However, I will be honest as much as I wanted to see more adventures set up in this world, I thought that at the end of the book four Darren and Kabon’s love story was pretty much completed. I did not think that they had any more of internal obstacles to overcome on the way to their happy ending. I suppose what I am saying is that I both wanted and did not want to see more of them because I did not want to see the guys overcoming contrived obstacles.
When one of my book buddies mentioned that book five is out I of course bought it despite my reservations and was so pleasantly surprised because the story continued with the new couple being front and center and we still got to see Darren and his lover and their teammates because they fit in the story and not just came to play “oh how happy we are” cameo.
How does the FBI talent team fit in the story of Angel and Matt? They were investigating the case of course and Angel managed to end up front and center of the investigation. Apparently one of the mafia families was recruiting untrained magic users in prison, trying to teach them how to use their craft and then use them to commit crimes with more ease. Only the previous three recruits either did not like their new classes and tried to quit, or mafia decided to get rid of them on their own. In any event the result was that three men ended up dead and Darren and the rest of the team try to prevent Angel from ending up dead next.
At the beginning of the story Darren and Rima came to prison trying to explain to Angel that a) he is already being watched by mafia most likely and he has untrained magic talent and b) he should basically go undercover when mafia boss will make contact with him and help them out . As I said Angel was already in danger so the offer made sense to me. FBI did not try to place him in danger in the first place, they were indeed trying to help him to make the best out of the situation, although of course having Angel go undercover and tell them more about who was trying to recruit untrained magic users in prison would have been advantageous for FBI as well.
I really liked Angel and his pragmatism. I liked that he decided to agree to FBI offer not because he suddenly discovered in himself hidden desire to help out law enforcement, but more out of the self -preservation. I also thought that Angel always had a scenario in mind where he would tell FBI to go take a hike if staying with mafia would be better scenario for him. Having said that, since we (the readers who had been reading these series) know that Darren and Rima and the rest of them are indeed good people, it was fun for me to see how a new character like Angel who is also not very sympathetic to them initially sees them and slowly develops at least some grudging admiration (or I thought so anyway).
Of course when Angel decides to accept FBI offer to spy for them if he is recruited, he leaves the prison and very soon he is approached by mafia people and invited (kidnapped basically) to join one of the mafia families where Boss Mr. Luschese will supposedly teach him magic.
Mr. Luschese is indeed very happy to teach Angel more magic to make him more efficient criminal for the most part and as a bonus we learn that Angel is a pretty fast learner. Initially when Rima and Darren tried to help Angel learn some initial lessons, it was made that Angel was not a shaman since Darren could recognize other shamans and he didn’t, and I thought it was made clear that Angel had the potential to be incantations user so Rima was teaching him some spells amongst other things.
I thought Angel did an excellent job as a reluctant undercover agent, or more precisely as somebody who was put in a difficult situation and was trying to survive while trying to keep at least small part of his decency to himself no matter how hard it was because he sure was forced to do some terrible things while “visiting” Mr. Luscheze.
I actually thought Angel was one of the most self-aware flawed characters I have read about in m/m for a while. I loved that he did not make excuses for himself and knew exactly who he was and what his faults were. Of course he had some kind of moral compass, but I would say he could make his piece with some things that a lot of people would not do. I also think that Angel learned a lot by the end of the book. He was not changed in the fluffy bunny by love of course, but I do think that love did play a role in his character growth.
"“If Reynolds was stupid enough to borrow money, then he can live with the consequences,” Angel said with a shrug. He had to believe that, because he was crossing a line here, and he had to know where his new line was. He needed to hold on to some piece of his decency."
"“And we’re collecting.” Angel kept his voice even, but his head started to spin. Angel had hurt people in the past. He’d laid one security guard out with a football tackle. He’d threatened people with knives to make a living holding up convenience stores. He had lost his innocence a long time ago, but he had never set out to hurt another person. Physical violence was something that happened when Angel lost control of the situation. It was never his primary purpose."
"How the hell had this kid survived growing up in this house? Sure, he was about the same age as Angel, but he shot right past optimistic and idealistic and landed in the land of fairy tales. “Look, I haven’t been a crusader for good in my life. Not only did I go to prison, but I deserved it. I didn’t trust my gut on that last robbery, and I got caught. That sort of stupidity is worse than my willingness to rob stores. So if you’re trying to appeal to my ethical side, realize my ethics are limited to what benefits me.” Angel expected that to drive Matt away. Instead he said in an almost fond voice, “You’re oddly self-aware and honest.” “Odd. That’s me,” Angel agreed. “Then again, I think most people are motived by their own self-interest. The ones who aren’t are either saints or conmen, and there aren’t many saints in this world.”"
Speaking about a love story between Angel and Mob Boss’ son Matt, I actually thought that as a beginning of the romance it did work quite well for me, but only as a beginning, I do not think they had much time to work on their relationship and can’t live without you did feel kind of sudden. I would not mind seeing couple more books with them as main characters at all. I really liked Matt too and thought that he could do some growth as well in the future books. In this one he seemed more simplistic character than Angel.
We learned some new things about magic and how it works in this world. I also liked that this book continued to develop the theme that incantation users are not inferior magic users to Shamans. I am not sure if this was made clear in the first book ( although maybe it was deliberately vague so I could check their own assumptions and discovery that I was wrong), but I interpreted that Shamans’ magic was vastly superior since they can power the tools that other magic users use and their magic came from spiritual plane. I was very happy that we learned in this book that incantation users get their powers from the earth magic same as shamans from the spiritual plane.