REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT DEAR AUTHOR WHERE I RECEIVED THE BOOK AS FREE REVIEWING COPY
Dear KJ Charles,
I reviewed the first book in this series here. Now that some time has passed I can say that it was probably my favorite m/m book last year. I am usually wary of reading the sequel to a beloved book, because I worry whether the sequel will live up to the high bar that the first book raised. I am glad that for me this sequel definitely did. Now I can worry about the third book.
This book should not be read as a stand – alone. If you do read this first, I do not think you will be terribly confused, because the adventure/mystery plot is a new one, but the book continues to build up the relationship between the main characters, Lucien Crane and Stephen Day, and most importantly it once again develops their characters in the midst of all that danger, magic and mayhem.
One of the main reasons why I often scoff at the possibility of a sequel (or series developed) to a book I loved is because so many authors seem to be so very fond of creating artificial conflicts between the couple, just to break them up for the sake of another book and then putting them back together at the end. But there is absolutely nothing artificial in the tension between Stephen and Lucien in this book, because it arises out of who they are, and the unresolved issues in their relationship are believable because their relationship is only several months old. And of course there is a nice external danger to both of them, which made perfect sense in the context of the mystery/adventure plot.
More importantly, the unresolved issues between the men do not make them act like idiots. For example, in the very beginning of the book somebody has decided to blackmail Lucien over his relationship with Stephen and made his demands known to Lucien. It is part of Lucien’s nature to try and protect Stephen (even though he is aware of Stephen’s abilities to protect himself). I was very pleased to see that it did not occur to Lucien to hide the blackmailer’s visit from Stephen, and he let his lover know as soon as possible about the blackmail attempt. I do not know why I was even worried for a second that this would be the source of a quarrel between the guys and a reason for manufactured conflict/breakup/angst (take your pick). I really must start trusting this writer not to lead me towards silly plot turns.
I was also pleased to see both men becoming more and more aware of each other flaws, but still loving each other more, not less. It was refreshing to see Lucien realize (with a little push from Merrick) how much Stephen’s pride means to him and try to curb his own “wanting to rescue” tendencies. At the same time Stephen would at least attempt to ask for help, hopefully because he understood that asking for help sometimes did not make him weak. And their declaration of love was so appropriate and so suited to both of them. When we see Stephen’s desire to protect Lucien at all costs despite what it seemed to have cost him in terms of his cherished job, it made me wonder whether these men are really that different inside. I decided not.
I must praise the adventure/mystery/magic storyline – I loved it just as much as I loved it in the first book. It made the characters shine, but more importantly it made me hold my breath wondering what would happen next and I read without hesitation the creepiness that I am usually more likely to pass in many other books. I did not want to miss a word; I had to know what was going on. I was also pleased to become more acquainted with Stephen’s partner Esther and other practitioners from his team. I am really hoping that I will see more of them in the next book of these series. I liked Esther a lot, but I think she could have used more fleshing out. Merrick, Crane’s manservant and friend was just as awesome in this book, and I while I was a bit scared to see the extent of his ruthlessness, I am glad the writer did not shy away from it. I liked that we learned more about what Merrick and Crane did in China as well.
The writing was just as wonderful as in the first book. Here is an example to give you a taste, so that you can decide whether it works for you. Lucien was asked to do a little translating work for Stephen and his team ;).
“Crane knew from Stephen that Mrs. Gold was the senior member of the team, and that she resented the common assumption that she was subordinate to the men. He addressed his next words to her. “Please don’t think this is a vulgar curiosity, but if you want me to translate when someone arrives, it would help to know what I need to discuss. What’s the problem?”
The practitioners glanced at each other, quick fleeting looks. Esther Gold said,
“We got a rat problem.” Saint wore a malicious grin.
“I suppose you know you can hire a man and a dog in any pub in this city,” Crane offered blandly.
“It wouldn’t help,” Stephen said. “Joss, show him.”
Janossi put a toe under a fold of the sackcloth bundle and flipped it over. Crane walked over and looked at what lay within.
It was undeniably a rat. It long yellow teeth were bared in death. Its eyes were blood-filled and bulging, which Crane attributed to Stephen, since he had seen a man dead that way at his hands. Its matted, dirty brown pelt was stiff with filth and dust, its claws were grey and scaly, its naked tail pinkish. It was a rat like any other, except in one respect.
It was about four feet long, not counting the tail, and would have stood perhaps a foot high at the shoulder.”
I cannot wait for the next installment in this series. Oh and what a refreshing idea it is, to choose not to end every book in the series with the cliffhanger.