Years ago, Cal finally got out of a destructive relationship with Salim—and really, it was for the best. But when Salim comes crashing through the protective wards around Cal’s house, demon nipping at his heels, the two are forced to not only acknowledge one another, but work together. Despite the falling out, Salim is the last living member of the magical Court that keeps their small California town running smoothly and Cal’s got the family links to the right people to help install the new Lord for the Court.
Along the way, they meet Barney—a helpful cop who lives one city to the north and knows about all things magical. With a little extra help from Cal’s cousin, Chuck, and few powerful families, the hodgepodge group just might have a fighting chance. But no sooner to they find the next Lord when she gets snatched away. To get her back, Cal, Salim, and Barney travel to the Uncanny, an underworld for Fae where anything can happen. And here, the unthinkable happens: the God of Mischief informs Cal that there is a traitor in their midst. Before Cal can prevent disaster, he is betrayed. Without the Lord and the magic of the Court running amok, Cal’s got his work cut out for him.
To be honest, I really enjoyed WHAT Hong is doing with the story more than HOW much of it gets executed. Take Cal, for example. I love how we are introduced to him—he’s just a guy sitting at a desk when all hell breaks loose because his slightly magical boyfriend is on the lam from a murderous demon. The narration is first person, so we get to enjoy the action from the driver’s seat, to so speak. Cal is genuine, as we learn the more he interacts with his long-time ex-boyfriend and an amorous Barney (and Cal’s family lawyer, who drops a few hints along with flippant rejections), and a bit less naive than he once was. The way he interacts with his home magic helps me as a reader understand what his “normal” is, too. I always looked to how the wards around his home reacted for clues about whether I should like Salim or if something serious was going to happen.
Then, there’s the fact that Cal’s Chinese America. Beyond his name, though, that didn’t signify anything for the plot. Nevertheless, I did like how Hong fits that representation in there in a by-the-way kind of manner. This happens with Salim, also, but it felt a little more on-the-nose to me. It wasn’t until maybe 2/3 of the way through the book that Cal has reason to list why his grandmother hates Salim: he’s Muslim, he’s Malay, and he’s a boy. The first two have zero impact on the story and I discuss the romance aspect of the story below. Clearly, I think it’s important to Hong to have a story that doesn’t feature white people in all the main roles—but I think there would have been better opportunities to disclose these qualities about Salim.
The magical aspect of the this world seems pretty intricate. I’ll admit, half the time I didn’t really know what was going on or why—just that there are magical Courts and they’re led by a Lord and if something happens to the whole Court, the magic (telluric currents, actually) goes haywire. Haywire is bad, I understand. But for this anti-hero’s journey of a story, there was so little time to make sense of things. The cross-section between magical and nonmagical, for example, was poorly explained—how much did the non-magic users and the magic users know/tolerate about each other? This gets touched on once or twice, but only in passing. Nevertheless, there is a depth of detail that clearly indicates Hong has put serious thought into how the world works rather than just making stuff up as the story progresses. That said, I couldn’t fully appreciate it because everyone in the story talked about stuff like they knew what everything was (well, I suppose they do, but that doesn’t help the reader delve into the story). Ultimately, I just think the story “suffers” a bit from Hong having a bit TOO much personal clarity about the characters and their world and too little space in the story to fully allow the reader to explore and appreciate it all.
In the romance department, this isn’t a traditional boy-meets-boy kind of thing. I actually didn’t realize Cal and Salim were as old as they are until pretty late in the game. They had been dating about a decade ago, so they’re at least 25-ish. Based on the blurb, I was gearing up for one of two things: Cal getting back together with Salim (I’ll admit, I was pulling for this if only because they have the longest on-page relationship), Cal getting together with Barney (eh, I hoped this would be what spurred Salim to finally put up a good fight to win Cal back), and a brief few moments of Cal getting tighter with his family’s lawyer (this was more forced because Cal reveals he gets tongue tied around the guy, like a crush but sort to not because the guy can be a real jerk). In that regard, it was fun to read how all these interactions with Cal played out. Regardless of who does or doesn’t end up with Cal, I liked seeing the jealousy and the aloofness play out on page.
The only really big black mark on an otherwise fun (if under explained) story was the end. The Court/Lord issue gets wrapped up nicely, two of the three potential romances with Cal finish with a dramatic flair for one and a surprisingly reasonable demise for the other. But the very last thing we’re left with is an inexplicable proclamation by a character called the Queen of the Fae who is never seen or mentioned on page until this point. Rather than a sense of closure, it left me wondering why there wasn’t more time devoted to at least hinting at this Queen and why she would want (or be in a position) to call the shots in this way.
That said, if you want a bit of a challenge peeling back the layers on this or enjoy stories with a touch of suspense in a who-done-it sort of way, you’d probably like this book.