Two years ago — after a run gone bad in which JT lost half his gang and ended up captured and tormented by wizards — JT retired from the data theft business and bought for himself a normal life. A new identity, new papers, and a future as a mechanic. He has his own business, his dignity, and even an adopted daughter; it’s everything he ever needed.
What he didn’t need was Austen to come back into his life. Mad, maniacal, magical, and manic Austen who JT loved and lusted after. Austen who lied about everything and was as faithful as a leaf in the wind. Austen, the elf, who comes to JT for one last job. JT would say no, wants to say no, if it weren’t for the nature of this ‘one last job.’ To save Buzz, a friend — a crush, an almost lover — and one of the few friends he and Austen have left.
Buzz doesn’t just need a rescue, he needs a swift kick in the pants. What sort of idiot steals from one of the most powerful underworld triads in the world? He’s still the same red-haired, wide-eyed innocent JT fell in lust with, but between running for their lives and Austen, JT hardly knows what he wants. He knows Austen is bad news; Austen can’t love him, won’t love him. JT is human and fragile and scared of loving an orc. And the Blue Unicorn, the AI fragment Buzz found and stole, turns out to be so much more important than JT thought.
Wizards and necromancers, elves and orcs, technology and magic, all the things that shouldn’t go together… and yet, sometimes they do. Sometimes it’s worth risking getting hurt again, taking a chance on the impossible: a chance on Austen, a chance on love.
I started this book disliking Austen. He lies — blatantly, often, even always! — and ended it feeling bad for him. I was on JT’s side for part of it, then Austen’s, then back and forth again. These are not simple characters, there’s no black and white for either of them. I love morally grey characters and worlds, and Austen was so grey he makes rocks look white.
Austen is an elf with a gift for magic, archery, and physical perfection. At first glance, he’s a charlatan and a user, someone willing to take endless advantage of JT, always pushing for more, always looking for an angle. But as you read the book and his back story is revealed, you can’t help but begin to understand why he’s the way he is. At a young age, he and his sister — sister by virtue of being an elf, rather than a biological sibling — left their homestead and went to the city. In Austen’s words — Austen, who would rather use twenty words than two — they ‘survived.’ Two words hint at so much pain, so much damage. He’s a bit of a sadist, a bit of a masochist, and as amoral as a cat. He does it to survive; Austen will always survive.
JT is an orc. Tusks, green skin, greater build and height, and with a heart as guarded as Fort Knox. He was in love with Austen for much of their time together, when it was he, Austen’s sister, and one other who ran heists for quick cash and adventure. But it was always one-sided, and JT finally had to say enough. Enough of breaking his heart for Austen, enough of eating his own heart.
The flashbacks regarding JT and Austen are always from JT’s point of view, giving us his version of the story. But, over time my opinion of JT changed. Yes, he did what he needed to do for himself, but he hurt Austen terribly in the process. Neither of them are past that pain and betrayal, and that’s the cloak over every interaction they take in this book.
This is book one in a series and I have hopes it continues with Austen and JT’s relationship. By the end of this book they’ve made… well, not peace, exactly. After a very hot scene on the hood of a car they’ve tentatively agreed to try again, sort of. For now, at least. Austen wants JT back, but does he want JT back, or the obedient friend-with-benefits JT used to be? And what does JT want out of Austen? Knowing the elf as he does, is he ready to take what Austen can give him? Does he think there’s more that can be had?
For what it’s worth, I think they both need a bit more healing before they can say the “L” word, either of them, but I imagine they’ll get there in their own rather scatter-shot way. I buy them as a couple, I buy them as people, and I read this book in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down.
The world building is wonderful. The blending of magic and technology isn’t a new one, but the world this book takes place in is a new one. A handful of decades ago orcs and elves (and unicorns) came into the world. Why and how we don’t know, but we do know that they were treated horribly. Did magic come in with them, or had it already been there? Are there more races than just these two?
The plotting is tight, the pace is rapid, and the action scenes are very well-written. I don’t mind unanswered questions when I have faith that the author is in control of the story and has already teased book two, which I hope comes out soon!