CW: suicides (in the past), suicidal actions/ideation (but it’s made clear that it’s a curse which is making the character feel that way), homophobia, mentions of assault, mentions of incest, magic which saps a character’s life energy, and also some magical manipulation of emotions which I found hard to get behind
Bereft of Will Darling, I thought I’d give Charles’ back catalog a perusal. While I really enjoyed this novel, there’s a central premise that I felt it hard to get over. As such, I’ve had the second in the series on my Kindle for a while but haven’t felt the urge to read it (despite it being pretty short, as this one was).
The central issue is actually quite similar to A Marvellous Light now that I think about it: there’s a himbo-ish lord/aristocrat (Lucien Vaudrey) who has returned from China after the untimely death of his father and brother, both of whom are Very Bad Men, straight from central casting. He keeps wanting to kill himself suddenly, despite not being suicidal, aka it’s clear there’s some funny magic business going on. He enlists the help of Stephen Day, professional magician, who unfortunately hates the Vaudreys after formerly mentioned terrible Vaudrey Father and Son went out of their way to ruin the life of his father, who was trying to get justice for crimes committed by Son.
So far with me? As it were, it turns out that Lucien is under a curse to kill him somehow, said curse is just going to get stronger, and Stephen is the one who can fix it. They journey back to the Vaudrey estate, where Lucien learns he’s the heir of a super genius magician. There’s lots of quips, lots of UST that then gets resolved, creepy sacrificial magician types, the whole nine yards.
But to share, in case it also is a thing you might want to avoid: there’s this weird power dynamic that Charles goes to great lengths to point out, which then backs us into a corner because we have to correct it, and in doing so I think the book goes to far into the other direction. Multiple times we are told that Stephen Day is small. He’s a small man, he’s slight, he’s a lightweight, etc. Lucien is not–he’s strong and big and did like, smuggling and manual labor whilst in China. So there’s this physical differential that makes Stephen seem like he can’t say no (not so explicitly, but that’s the vague sense). And then to compensate, there’s a scene where the two of them are about to get it on but instead of saying no, Stephen just manipulates Lucien’s emotions so that Lucien is no longer into Stephen.
When Lucien figures this out and confronts Stephen about this, the conclusion of the conversation sort of ends up being like, “Lucien could force Stephen to do whatever he wants, include force him to beg for sex, but it’s not a weird power dynamic because Stephen could always manipulate Lucien’s emotions.” I don’t love it, to be honest, and I don’t like how it continues throughout the book and sets up the dynamic in their relationship as well. Charles never really misses an opportunity to call out Stephen as being slight or small, and I almost wonder if in trying to show body diversity in a book (because goodness knows m/m is usually stuffed to the gills with dudes with undiscovered six packs) we ended up in this sticky situation.