Rating: 4.5 stars
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Two years ago, Seth Tanner’s brother Jesse was killed by a witch bent on revenge for his master’s death a century before. Seth feels responsible for not being able to save Jesse, and now he is determined to get vengeance. As he learns more about the murder, Seth discovers that another potential victim, Jackson Malone, faces attack in the next few days. Seth is now desperately trying to track Jackson down so that he can protect him from the witch who is coming after him.
Jackson (aka Evan) is working as a bartender in Richmond, having disappeared to get away from a stalker ex boyfriend. When Evan meets Seth, he finds the guy incredibly hot, and thinks they can have a night or two of fun while Seth passes through town. When there is an attempt on Evan’s life, however, he is shocked to have Seth explain what is really going on. Evan isn’t sure he believes in magic or witches, or that he should even trust the stranger telling him he will soon be the target of a ritual murder. After dealing with his ex, Evan isn’t quick to trust. But Evan has no place else to turn, and the connection he feels to Seth is strong, and so he agrees to stick with Seth for a while.
Now that he has Evan under his protection, Seth still needs to figure out where the killer is hiding if he has any hope of stopping him. With Evan’s help, Seth begins to track down the witch, trying to find him before he can get to Evan. Even as Evan is falling for Seth, however, it is still hard for him to fully trust the man he just met. Especially since Seth seems so adept at lying, comfortable breaking in where he shouldn’t be, and tracking people online. It is all just too close to his ex’s behavior that Evan begins to worry. But Seth is determined that Evan isn’t going to die on his watch; he lost his brother and he is not going to lose the man he has grown to love as well. Now Seth and Evan must fight for Evan’s life from the witch intent on killing him. And hope that if he can make it out alive, there is a chance for a future between them.
I totally enjoyed Witchbane and author Morgan Brice really pulls the romance, paranormal elements, and urban fantasy plot all together quite well. The story captured my attention from the Prologue where we see Seth and Jesse face the horrific attack and it kept me eagerly following along straight through the book. The story about who is behind Jesse’s murder and why was fascinating and really sets up the book well. Seth has now become a hunter of sorts, learned magic, and is working with others who are all trying to keep people safe from the supernatural. So he has figured out that Jackson/Evan is next in line for murder, but not where Jackson is, nor the current identity of the killer. So there is nice sense of excitement here, a race against time as they know the killer will strike within days, but they can’t stop him without figuring out who and where he is.
The story reads very much as a contemporary, but the urban fantasy and paranormal elements are built in well. Seth is a regular guy (albeit highly trained former military) who has taught himself a bit of magic and he is fighting against these supernatural bad guys, mostly on the strength of his own wits. Brice does a good job keeping the intensity up here, even as the guys spend time researching or checking out abandoned buildings. There is just a sense that anything could happen at any time that kept me engaged throughout the book.
I also think Brice sets Seth and Evan up well. She develops both these characters in ways that really explain their behavior and attitudes throughout the book. Seth is former military, having come home from active duty and then witnessing his brother’s death from an enemy Seth couldn’t stop. He still feels that guilt and pain and is determined to keep it from happening to anyone else. So he is willing to sacrifice himself or do whatever else it takes to protect Evan. For his part, Evan is somewhat slow to trust after his past relationship. He is falling for Seth, but also doubts himself, wondering if he has the judgement to really see what is going on and worrying that Seth’s sometimes controlling behavior and skills at hacking and tracking are maybe warning signs he should be heeding. So I think that Brice gives these guys a believable relationship conflict that has its roots in their individual personalities. My only hitch here is that at times I felt like Evan is being all judgy about Seth’s actions, yet Seth is actively trying to save Evan’s life. I mean, I can forgive breaking into an abandoned building, even though technically illegal, to keep myself from being slaughtered. So there were a few moments where I felt like the conflict was a teensy bit contrived, but overall I think it worked well.
The book takes place in about four days, so yes, their relationship and falling in love happened quickly. But it never felt rushed to me as I read, perhaps because of the intense situation in which these guys find themselves. I really liked these guys together and I would love to see more from them. Brice indicates at the end of the book that there will be more stories in this world, but I’m not clear if they will follow Evan and Seth or other characters.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story by new-t0-me author Morgan Brice (just for clarity, this is Brice’s first work under this pen name, but she also writes urban fantasy and steampunk under Gail Z. Martin). I found the story really interesting and unique, and it had me engaged throughout the book. The paranormal and urban fantasy elements blend nicely with the romance and overall I just really enjoyed this story. I can definitely recommend it!