BlackRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

Chip MacDonald is a Toronto detective whose partner, Jack, has just been promoted. Not only does he have a new boss now, but he also needs a new partner. And what better way to celebrate then with chocolate cake … and a murder?

In New Canadia, Toronto is known as the City of Monsters, and it’s more than earned its moniker. With faeries, witches, elementals — oh my! — and vampires, mythical goddesses, werewolves, and who knows what else lurking in the shadows, the police force is hard pressed to keep humanity safe. All of this makes life as a detective that much harder for Chip, because Chip, like so many others, has a secret. You see, Chip isn’t his real name, and Chip isn’t human.

When he was fifteen, Chaz Solomon was infected with vampirism by a brief fling. But that’s all in the past, now. He’s earned himself a new life and a new name and he’s doing everything he can to keep himself “human.”

With his new parnter, Declan Gallagher, Chaz is on the case of a bizzarre serial killer, one who is killing humans as well as vampires. Normally monster crimes aren’t prosectuted — let alone investigated — unless there’s a human involved. This bigotry on the side of humans and the hostility on the side of the city’s monsters make the case almost impossible, especially when more people end up the victim of the killer.

As a vampire himself, Chaz has certain needs, such as fresh blood and iron pills to help him with his daylight difficulties. The one safe place he knows — safe and discreet — is Artie’s. Running a hidden brothel, Artie employs a variety of inhumans to satisfy all her customers needs. When Tom, Chaz’s usual dinner — and dinner companion — isn’t available, he finds himself in the compay of Sully. Sully soon becomes more than dinner, more than a night’s company. He soon becomes, well, not exactly a friend. Something more, something more important. Chaz can’t stop thinking about Sully, and not just as someone for the night.

When it turns out Sully can help them with translations — being the only person Chip or the Toronto poilce department can find on short notice — Sully, too, is brought into the case as a consultant. But as the case grows more involved, more tangled, more dangerous it soons become clear that all manner of secrets are going to have to be brought into the light.

Chaz and Sully’s story is darker than Nat and Gabe’s, the main characters of Never Lose Your Flames, the first book in the New Canadiana series. It involves child molestation, sex trafficking, sexual slavery, prostitution and, of course, murder. However, none of these are gratuitous and all of them are dealt with gently and with compassion and delicacy.

Well, except for the murders, of course.

Sully and Chaz are a difficult couple, and it took me some time to decide if I liked them, either together or individually. It’s the mark of a good author when you’re left thinking about a book long after it’s over. Sully has had a difficult past and it has given him a suit of armor that has relatively few openings. Even though we’re in Sully’s head for a good portion of the book, it’s hard to get further insight into him unless he’s willing to let us. This is not a bad thing. Sully is a fully developed character; he is his own person with his own motivations and reactions and I admire Gideon for being able to bring his story to life. Throughout the book we’re seeing a closed-off, wary Sully who is slowly getting to know Chaz, and even more slowly trying to find his place with Chaz. By the end of the book Sully has made up his mind, but his emotional state is still roughly where it was: he’s a young man who has gone through so much, endured so much, and still has a lot of healing to do.

And then there’s Chaz. Chaz is… difficult. He’s also a bit of a cypher, though more because unlike Sully who internalized much of his trauma, Chaz has decided to ignore it. To shut it away and turn himself into Chip. A human who wasn’t abandoned by his parents, a human who didn’t have to deal with the realities of being considered an animal, something not even human. As a police officer, he’s unable to investigate monsters who’ve been murdered, assaulted, or robbed. They’re not people, and so they deserve no help from theToronto Police. For Chaz, this double life is so hard to bear that he chooses to simply turn away from it. So a case that brings to light the horrible things being done to his people — the sex trafficking, the murders, the reality that so many of them are trapped in brothels because they heal faster than humans and so can endure more than humans — is even harder for him. He has to choose whether to let it go or to keep pushing forward. To his credit, Chaz decides to ‘vampire up’ and do his duty to his people, to find the murderer of who has been killing vampires.

But while that’s all good, it’s how the other characters — especially Sully — treat Chaz that make me roll my eyes. They treat Chaz like he’s some special snowflake victim. He’s wounded, he’s hurt, he has feelings! He must feel things more deeply because he was turned into a vampire against his will and so he’s wounded. Sully spent his childhood being molested. He was sold into sexual slavery at a young age and works in a brothel. But no, let’s all tell Chaz how much of a victim he is and how brave he is for dealing with it.

On their own, I think Sully and Chaz are beautifully written characters. As a couple, I think they’re a little co-dependant. I think Sully wants someone to take care of and Chaz wants someone to deal with things for him, and they’re each willing to be that for the other person. They both need healing, and I’m not sure they’ll get it from each other… but with the support system Sully has in his fellow sex workers, I have confidence that they can get better.

But that’s a small quibble and I haven’t even touched on the plot! More than just a murder mystery, the story involves the idea of myths and dieties coming to the mortal world, which only makes me wonder more about all the various supernatural creatures in Gideon’s world. There’s the ongoing treatment of the other races as inhuman or monsters, even though — as Chaz points out several times — he was born of a mortal woman. He’s flesh and blood, just like his other officers. There are long discussions of how to help people trapped in the sex trade as Artie and her sisters try to save those trapped by sex trafficking. There are no easy answers, and this book understands that. It raises points, it makes us question what we think of these people. Sully isn’t ashamed of his work, and he isn’t sad or resentful that he works in a brothel. He’s there by choice — his choice. He doesn’t need rescuing, though he does need healing. And while he, and others like him, are victims, that doesn’t mean they’re helpless or hopeless.

There are no happily ever after’s in life, and there isn’t one in this book, but I enjoyed reading Sully and Chaz’s story very much. I may not see them as the perfect couple, but they’re happy together so who am I to judge? (I mean, I do anyway… but that’s just me.)

As always, the writing is excellent, the plot is intricate and layered, and the villain and the ending work very well. The pace is a little languid, though. It’s a saunter through the park rather than a clean, straight read from beginning to end. You’ll need to set aside some time to read this one. And I hope you do!

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

elizabeth sig