Saul Lazenby is a disgraced archeologist who returned from the war all but unemployable. The only work he has managed to get is assisting Major Peabody, a well-meaning but mostly batty man who believes in magic and is determined to find it somewhere in England. But although eccentric, the man seems harmless enough and at least it’s a job.
Saul mostly gets sent around to investigate sites and incidents his boss thinks are evidence of magic and supernatural activity. One investigation takes Saul to a series of places where strange things are definitely occurring. And at each one, he encounters Randolph Glyde.
Randolph comes from a long line of arcanists, but lost his entire family in the war. Now the heavy burden his family carried of looking after supernatural sites is all falling on his shoulders alone. He can’t quite figure out Saul, who keeps appearing everywhere Randolph goes. He is either an innocent who is ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time, or he is up to trouble.
While the men start off at odds, after a while they begin to get to know one another and enjoy each other’s company. When more magical mysteries occur, it becomes impossible for Randolph to continue hiding the truth about his role and his abilities from Saul. Saul is clearly mixed up in all this, even if he doesn’t know how or why. But as the men get drawn further in the mystery, it becomes clear that there is something evil waiting to be unleashed, something only they may be able to stop. Now the men must race against time and ancient monsters to keep something horrible from being unleashed.
Spectred Isle is the first book in K.J. Charles’ new Green Men series and I loved everything about it. It takes place in the same world as Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, though this story stands alone perfectly. This book takes place a few years after the war ends and following the conclusion of Feximal. In terms of characters, Randolph is close friends with Sam Caldwell, Simon and Robert’s adoptive son. However, the connection between the books really is the shared world and the way the landscape has changed so dramatically after the war that still leaves the country recovering. We learn that all sides attempted to use the arcanists for their own purposes, hoping that their powers would sway the war. All that magic not only left all of Randolph’s family dead, but also left the veil between the worlds in tatters. So now not only are most of the practitioners gone, but the risks from otherworldly creatures are even more severe.
Charles really has done a wonderful job with the world building here. This is a different take on magic and the supernatural world than many of I have read. There is a deep connection to the earth and nature, and the Green Men are tasked with caring for key sites that then serve as protection for the city and the country. So we learn about that on a broad level, while at the same time following along as Randolph and Saul try to figure out just what kind of evil they are dealing with and how Saul and his boss came to be mixed up in it. There is so much creativity here and I was totally swept up in the magic and the mystery. There were a few times I found myself a bit overwhelmed with the intricacies of the world building, but for the most part I found it fascinating and compelling.
I also really loved Saul and Randolph together. These are both men who face heavy emotional burdens. Saul made a mistake that will haunt him forever, one for which deep down he doesn’t truly think he deserves forgiveness. This weighs on him so much, leaving him lonely and somewhat adrift. Meeting Randolph and taking on this new role gives him the sense of purpose that he has needed. And Randolph is so supportive and refuses to let Saul get mired in his guilt. For his part, Randolph has been left with the responsibilities of his whole family now that they are all gone. He knows he is not trained or prepared to take it all on, but there is no one left. So he struggles to fulfill his duty, even as he knows he is never going to be able to meet all the challenges. Both of these men start the story really facing struggles, and Charles does a great job showing how they complement one another and how they are able to give each other such emotional strength. I absolutely loved them together and their quick and clever banter just adds to their great dynamic.
This story is the first in a series and it looks like it will feature the others of Randolph’s group. They all are a bit different (Randolph an arcanist, Sam a ghost hunter like his parents, etc), but they all work together and have a common goal of protecting the city from supernatural evils. While this story resolves the basics of their case, there is a bigger picture we are just starting to explore and one I assume will carry through the series. I am really interested to see how Charles takes these different characters and brings their perspectives together as they work on this crisis over future books.
So I am a huge K.J. Charles fan and pretty much everything she writes is magic to me. This is another great story and looks to be the start of an intriguing new series.