This is a spin-off of the author’s Magic in Manhattan series, which I absolutely adored. I was a little worried about this book because it stars two somewhat villains (and afraid I would miss the characters from the previous book, Arthur and Rory) but this book is just as excellent as the previous ones. While it’s not directly connected to the previous series, I don’t think it would work without some knowledge of it (and this review will contain spoilers for that series).
“I’m the worst person most people have met.”
Sebastian smiled, soft and kind of sad. “You are not the worst person I’ve met,” he said, sweet and patient. “And the first time you met me, I was literally kidnapping someone. If you want to be the villain of the two of us, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to try harder.”
After the events of the last book, Sebastian is somewhat at loose ends, recovering from the blood magic that had him under its thrall for years. His family’s entire purpose is to protect the nonmagical from the magical, so one of the things he’s taken on himself is keeping an eye on Lord Fine’s house, one of those nonmagicals who got drawn in and endangered due to being Arthur’s ex. Though it seems like the main villain has been defeated, there are others still on the loose, others who Sebastian was forced to work alongside, who may know of his involvement. With his ex-paramour seemingly happily settled down, Lord Fine (Wesley) is unpleasantly forced to confront the emptiness of his own life. A veteran of the war, he has little time for the empty niceties he’s supposed to participate in because of his title, and even less for the supposed friendship of a man he’s sure tried to kidnap his ex’s lover. But when Sebastian saves his life when he’s targeted by a new paranormal murderer, Wesley eyes are opened to more than just magic – is it possible his first impression of Sebastian was wrong? Forced on the run together, can both men find redemption before the murderer find them?
“Are you serious right now?” said Lord Fine incredulously. “You’re handcuffed to my bed at gunpoint and you’re more upset that the English hunt foxes?”
“No,” Sebastian lied. He held his tongue for a moment, then couldn’t help adding, “But you shouldn’t.”
I was not expecting to like Wesley as much as I did. Frankly, Wesley is judgmental, blunt, and cynical. He knows he’s unpleasant, but he’s frankly unconcerned with anyone he considers too weak to handle him. While it was would be easy to write him off as a ginormous jerk and be done with it, Wesley has good reason for being the way he is. His experiences in the war only further hardened his upbringing as a manly British lordling. Like Wesley, Sebastian has every reason for being cold and unpleasant, but instead he’s the sort of person who feeds the stray cats outside his apartment, incredibly dangerous powers aside. Obviously, he’s someone I loved immediately. Sebastian’s frustrated with the fact that he’s still experiencing after effects from the years he spent under blood magic control. He thinks he’s broken beyond all repair, but the least he can do is to try to protect Wesley from a mess that is (partially) his fault. Wesley’s flummoxed by Sebastian’s reaction to him and his, uh, delightful personality. Sebastian’s complete lack of fear of him – of most situations – is intoxicating. Even more intoxicating is that he doesn’t care if others think he’s soft, if he’s weak.
“Wesley was not equipped to experience feelings, this was completely unacceptable.”
And it’s that vulnerability that leads the two men into a relationship that was absolutely joyful for Sebastian and “omg what are feels?” for Wesley. I am absolute trash for two traumatized characters relearning (or in Wesley’s case, learning) vulnerability and love, and this was absolute perfection. There’s a particular line, set in the middle of Sebastian reconsidering his (obvious to everyone but him) PTSD that’s stuck with me: “Maybe grace could be stronger than shame[.]” What an amazingly complicated sentiment distilled into just a few words, and it’s lines like this that make me come back to this author’s books again and again.
“You don’t have magic.”
“I don’t,” Wesley said, “but I have a revolver and a vendetta, so don’t confuse me with someone helpless.”
The world-building is exquisite. The magic system is absolutely fascinating, especially how Sebastian’s magic works on both magical and nonmagical people, plus the continuing astral plane journeys of Zhang. And yes, while Rory and Arthur are hopefully off lazing around Italy, Jade and Zhang play an integral part in the book. Outside of his family, Sebastian’s not used to having anyone who’s willing to help him, so his genuine bewilderment at suddenly having backup was so sweet and heartbreaking. It’s also ridiculously funny (see the above quotes), and added in with the deft balance of romance and adventure, this was a book I found very hard to put down.
“Don’t be cute,” Lord Fine said, then quickly added, “Get cute. Don’t get cute with me, no one is saying anything about you being cute.”
Overall, another stellar book from this author and easily one of my favorite books of last year. If you love paranormal historical romance, complicated characters muddling their way to HEAs, and some excellent world building, I highly recommend this series!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.