Rating: 4.75 stars
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At age 17, Lucien Vaudrey’s father put him on a boat to China, hoping he’d die along the way. Lucien managed to make a life there for himself as a trader (and a smuggler) and had no intentions of ever returning to England. He hated both his father and brother, both incredibly evil men that abused their power and destroyed people’s lives. But now, 20 years later, the deaths of both men mean that Lucien is forced to return home to deal with the estate and his new earldom.
Lucien has been back for a few months and things are desperately bleak. He is overcome with a sense of despair and a lack of will to live. In fact, he has tried to kill himself several times, and only the quick aid of his faithful servant Merrick saved him in time. But Lucien has no memory of trying to end his life. He fears it is madness, but Merrick suggests that perhaps there is some kind of curse involved.
Living in China for many years opened Lucien’s mind to shaman and the idea of magical powers, so in desperation, he seeks out someone in England who may be able to help. Stephen Day owes a friend a favor and very grudgingly agrees to try to figure out what is wrong with Lucien. Lucien’s father and brother destroyed Stephen’s family, and he has no desire to get involved with helping any of the other Cranes. But a sense of duty, as well as a growing realization that Lucien is nothing like his horrible family, convinces Stephen to try to help.
What first looks like a simple curse slowly begins to unwind into a much deeper evil. Every time the men think they have figured out who is trying to kill Lucien and why, they uncover more pieces of the puzzle. As the men become closer, Stephen is even more determined to save Lucien’s life and catch the warlocks that are behind the evil. But the enemies’ magic is incredibly strong, and when they set their full strength against them, Lucien and Stephen may not make it out alive.
Wow, so this book was such a wonderful surprise, so different from what I was expecting. It combines both the historical and paranormal genres, something very rare, and does it in a way that kept me eagerly turning pages. This is a book that really builds up steam as it goes. At first, we are setting the stage, learning about Lucien’s past and awful family and how he ended up back in London. We are introduced to Stephen, and the idea of magical practitioners, both good and evil. At first the answer to the puzzle of what is harming Lucien seems quite simple and easy to resolve. But as the story goes on, the problem keeps growing and the plot gets thicker. The book takes on twists and turns that deepen the mystery and amp up the excitement and the conclusion is really quite thrilling. Charles builds a wonderful world here, set in the traditional historical period, but adding that layer of paranormal that makes this truly unique.
Both Stephen and Lucien are fascinating characters. Although he is officially a lord, Lucien has lived most of his life as a rough trader in China. He is coarse and irreverent and built like a dock worker rather than a gentleman. He knows all too well how terrible his family was, and makes no excuses for them. I loved his sense of humor and his complete lack of care of what polite society might think. Yet he is deeply committed to those he cares about, putting both Stephen and Merrick’s lives ahead of his own without a second thought, and seeking to right the wrongs of his family whenever possible.
Stephen is equally interesting. He is a little tiny elfin man, who is not only a magic practitioner, but also sort of a leader among the group. He helps police the other magical folks to make sure no one is getting out of line, pretty much a thankless job and one that often puts his life at risk. Stephen starts out the book hating Lucien, believing anyone from the Crane family is certainly evil. But he is not too stubborn to realize that Lucien is a good man, and slowly the two grow into friendship and a strong attraction for one another. Most of this story focuses on the mystery of who is trying to kill Lucien and the accompanying suspense plot. So while we see the feelings growing between the men, their relationship is not the primary focus (though the scene where these guys ultimately get together is scorching hot!). But we are definitely left with a sense that there is more to come for these guys together, and as this is the first of a series featuring Lucien and Stephen, I expect their relationship to continue to grow.
So I really loved this one and thought it was quite a lovely surprise from a new-to-me author. Even if you don’t read a lot of historicals, this book is so unique and exciting and well put together that I urge you to give it a try. Charles has created a fabulous world of magic and suspense and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment. Highly recommended.