There was no way ten-year-old Connor could have predicted how literally stumbling over a man on the beach would impact his life. There’s no denying, however, than Connor finds someone to look up to when he finds Yates. First, the man becomes Connor’s friend, offering to teach Connor how to harness the magic that slumbers within him. Next, Yates befriends the youngster, sharing simple burdens like tending Yates’ garden and caring for the ship Yates calls home.
There is a final aspect to their connection, one that Connor blows wide open with a single, tumultuous kiss years after they’d met. As much as Yates was content to ignore how is affection for Connor shifted as the boy grew into a man, Connor’s unrepentant expression of desire unleashes thoughts Yates has spent years trying vanquish. Yates knows he is too old, too abject a failure to be more than a mere teacher to Connor. As much as Yates tries pushing Connor back into their student-teacher relationship, Connor has other ideas. Their differences ultimately drive a wedge between them as much as they drive them apart physically.
Years later, these two are still nursing old wounds of rejection when disaster in the form of a tsunami strikes. Suddenly, Connor and Yates are thrown together again in a battle for their very lives…but there are no guarantees desperate times and desperate measures will give them the tools to overcome their own foolhardiness.
There are a few things I found noteworthy about this story. One is the manner of its telling. I perused the table of contents before I dug in and noticed the naming: 1. Ten, 2. Eleven, 3. Twelve…11. Eighteen (Part I), 12. Eighteen (Part II), 13. Eighteen (Part III) and so on. It turns out, these represent Connor’s age. On the one hand, this is an intriguing way to frame the action. Starting things with one of the principle characters at 10 and continuing until he is 24, as happens in this story, is an opportunity ripe with possibilities to highlight a literal lifetime.
I felt this was successful…to a point. Each of the first several chapters highlights the manner in which Connor and Yates interact with one another one day a year—on Connor’s birthday. At first, this seems like a pretty clever way to give our MCs a rich backstory, but the further along we go, it’s blatantly clear that the MCs see each other on a regular basis throughout the entire year; the reader is only privy to what they get up to on Connor’s birthday. In effect, it starts to feel like we start over each chapter.
In theory, the fact that Connor realizes he’s got romantic feelings for Yates would have freshened things up by changing the focus from adult/minor to consenting adults. Initially, when Connor is still 16, it’s sort of charming because he manages to steal a sweet kiss from Yates’ lips and Yates rebuffs him. This felt like a good shift from child to mostly-adult for Connor…who doesn’t have love life woes when they’re teenagers? Except the ensuing sexual tension, repression, and awkwardness gets drawn out for the three-quarters of the book. What that ended up meaning for me was showcasing just how much of a complete and utter dick Connor is. Take this scene, for example. It take place after Yates and Connor are thrown together on Yates’ boat-house following the tsunami and are stuck at sea. It’s prime time for them to hash out the drama:
Yates squirms. “I…oh, suck—this isn’t right.”
Slowly, Connor leans in…and his lip brush Yates’ ear. “You want to taste me. I can read you, Yates.”
The wizard sucks in a sharp breath. It’s all Connor needs to know. He tilts his head, pressing a soft kiss to Yates’ check, then the shell of his ear, circling his earlobe with his tongue. Then he takes it into his mouth. Yates moans, a low, guttural sound. His fingers land on Connor’s thigh, an electric touch trailing down to his knee then up the muscles of his leg, learning the grooves of his skin…
As if he’s jolted from a daydream, Yates flinches. His magic flares under his skin. “No,” he gasps, scrambling backward, his eyes anchored on the library shelves. “I can’t—can’t do this.”
Yates has been doing this for four goddamned years. He’s so tired of the wizard and his stupid games. Instead, he glances down at the telling line in Yates’ pants. “You want to fuck me, damn you,” he growls. It kindles anger in his gut, knowing that Yates wants him, that Yates is still the same as he was before, pushing Connor away when he’s much rather grind up against him.
I’d say that is a fair representation of the kinds of emotions with which they regard one another, when in the presence of each other or when separated and merely thinking about the other man. It gets so tedious to read chapter after chapter (read: year after year for the characters). Not only does Connor seem to have a one track mind (I want to have sex with Yates, I can tell Yates wants to have sex with me, why aren’t we naked and going at it already?!), he seems incapable of even trying to empathize with Yates. For the record, Yates turns into an equally tiresome character. For the last third of the book, Yates embodies the trope “too damaged to love or be loved ever again.” Observe:
Yet a part of him wants Connor to say. It reveals him to know he wants to bed a person a tenth of his age. Connor hasn’t lived through the panic of the world wars, hasn’t been taught by any other wizard. He hasn’t ha a disapproving mentor mutter in his ear, “if you fail others, then you’ve failed me.”
Yates doesn’t want to feel like a failure anymore. He’s tired of the reminders that he isn’t good enough, that he wants something so perverse: a child he has shaped into a man. It violates all the rules he knows.
In a nutshell, the reduction of Connor and Yates to a sex addicted mercurial jerk and Yates to a self-recriminating hermit ruined the spark of interest the one-year-per-chapter history builds in the early parts of the book.
Much like the characters, the world building started off pretty good. Working with the limited world of a 10-year-old boy and only on his birthday means there was a lot of opportunity for built-in tension. I was eager to learn about this world, how magic fit into it and all that. Unfortunately, the world building also starts to deteriorate the more we’re in the world. On the one hand, it’s clear the author has put some thought into the magical aspects of this fictionalized version of contemporary (!?) America. There are magical terms and elements of performing magic are consistently used by Yates and Connor. Connor’s dad is violently anti-magic. Magical beasts exists. Yates’ suffered tragic personal loss in the past.
That said, the author fails to follow up on these. These events may have a perfunctory explanation on-page somewhere: Connor’s dad is anti-magic because he was apparently shunned for NOT having magic. Yet why these events even matter is left unexplained: Is there a larger anti-magic movement; what would that mean for Connor? Conversely, are wizards considered better than regular mortal? Would that mean Connor would transform from a fisherman into a member of the elite by discovering his magical powers?
Overall, this is just a story about a curious young boy who grows up into an immature, selfish man and a wizard almost too scarred by his (virtually unexplained) past to learn to love again. If you like seeing people beat themselves and each other over seemingly unrequited love, you may still enjoy this. Still, it’s a hard pass for me.