Really liked this! You can barely tell that this was her first book. It was pretty short, and for the most part that was fine, but there were parts where she sums up conversations instead of showing them, where I wanted her to actually show them. There’s a significant story that Crane tells Stephen about how he got his tattoos, and we don’t get to hear it at all! She also glossed over their initial bonding and friendship.
But other than that, this was actually great. It’s equal parts fantasy, horror, and romance, and the plot actually was as intriguing as the romance. A lot of times plot just annoys me in romance novels because it feels like filler and is uninteresting, but here it was genuinely scary and exciting and cool, and Charles does a great job using the events of the plot to illuminate her characters.
Who are Lucien Vaudrey (Lord Crane, newly minted Earl, newly back in England after a twenty year exile to China) and Stephen Day (a practitioner of magic, whose father was ruined by Crane’s family years before). The two are brought together when it becomes clear that someone has targeted Crane by magical means, and his life is in danger. Being from Shanghai, where shamans and magic are common, he and his manservant Merrick immediately seek the local services of a magician. Day ends up helping him reluctantly, first assuming that Crane is as horrible a person as his departed father and brother. What seems at first to be a straightforward single act of vengeance on Crane’s family turns into a magical mystery, and both of them are soon in extreme danger as they try to unravel it.
Also, Crane is a terrible flirt and makes it very clear that he would appreciate a romp in the sack with the small but incredibly fierce magician (there was a reason his father exiled him to China, and that reason was incorrigible gayness). The sexytimes weren’t quite up to my taste (and she gets way better at those as her career goes on), but I really liked the chemistry between the characters, and appreciated that because this is a series, the two aren’t in love by the end of the book. They barely know one another, presumably that will happen in the rest of the series.
Definitely recommend though, and I’m excited to finish the series out, though I probably won’t get around to it until later in the year.
Read Harder Challenge 2019: A self-published book.