For the past year and a half, Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s Yorkshire estate. Every time he gets near the property border, Thornby feels compelled not to cross; if he manages to make it past the border, he feels an almost desperate need to return. Thornby has no idea what is trapping him, but his father is definitely behind it. Lord Dalton is in dire financial straits and so he snatched Thornby from London and brought him to Raskelf, making it clear his son can’t leave the estate until he falls into line and marries well.
John Blake is a magician who specializes in materials magic. His friend is the cousin of Lady Dalton, the marquess’ second wife. She believes that Thornby is casting spells upon her and John agrees to come and quietly investigate what is going on. When he arrives at Raskelf, it quickly becomes clear that Thornby is not behind the magical attacks on Lady Dalton. John also learns that Thornby is somehow impervious to his magic, that Lord Dalton is suffering under a curse, and that there is much more going on there than John could have ever guessed.
As John and Thornby work together to try to free Thornby from Raskelf, the men form a friendship and soon a romantic and sexual connection. But as the situation grows more dire, John will have to rely on all of his magical abilities, and Thornby on his own strength and perseverance, for the men to stop Lord Dalton before both of their lives are destroyed.
I really love the combination of historical and paranormal, so I was definitely intrigued by this book when I read the blurb. I think there is something about the rigid rules of formal society that contrast so well with the otherworldly paranormal themes. In this case, Lee Welch has created a fabulous story that is a wonderful mix of romance, historical setting, and fascinating paranormal world building.
First off, the paranormal elements Welch has built here are really engaging. While it is clear not everyone is familiar with or believes in magic, at the same time, it is being used in fairly common ways. For example, John does industrial magic, helping to secure assembly lines and shore up buildings. In fact, there is a nice reference to the building of the famous Crystal Palace in London and John’s role in that process. The most common form of magic is working with demons, but in John’s case, he is a materials magician, working with things like salt, sand, and iron. Welch does such an amazing job with these scenes as we see John use his magic and I loved the detail into the way he builds spells and charms. There is also a really interesting dynamic that develops as John grows as a magician, connecting to his materials and having them almost speak to him.
Before I go too much further, let me say that I deliberately kept the story explanation pretty vague here. I found myself completely drawn in right from the start as we slowly learn what is going on at Raskelf, what Lord Dalton is trying to accomplish, and why Thornby doesn’t respond to John’s magic. Not to mention the excitement as the men try to find a way to break the hold keeping Thornby trapped at the estate. So I am leaving out a lot of detail here about the world building and paranormal elements because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun as they discover it all for themselves. But I will just say that Welch really crafts such a fascinating paranormal story here and it kept me guessing and frantically turning pages throughout the book.
I also totally loved John and Thornby together. At first they are somewhat at odds; John thinks Thornby is up to no good, and Thornby doesn’t trust this stranger who just shows up at Raskelf. But it doesn’t take long before they realize they are on the same side. Each man has a bit of fear that they aren’t quite good enough for the other, but overall these guys bond very quickly. They trust in one another and take care of the other when in need. John, in particular, stays far longer than his initial agreement requires, determined not to leave until he can free Thornby. The men are fun together, with a banter and cleverness to their interactions. I particularly like the way they play a bit with the class differences, with John a little bossy in bed in a way that turns both men on. Even though the story covers only a short time period, I could fully believe in the connection between the two and loved watching them fall for one another.
So I really loved this story and am so excited to find another author who really excels at the paranormal and historical combination. I found this story completely captivating and I couldn’t put it down. From the start, I couldn’t wait to find out just what was happening at Raskelf and as the story developed, I wasn’t disappointed. Salt Magic, Skin Magic is well developed, suspenseful, and has excellent paranormal world building. I can highly recommend it.