“Smith” isn’t his real name. For demons, even half demons, a name can be a powerful thing and so he chooses to be called Smith. One foolish night, Smith gave his true name to someone, someone he thought he could fall in love with, someone who made his blood boil and his flames roar with passion. But the faerie wedding ended and the ifrit went home with his people, leaving Smith behind without so much as a backwards look. He’d been a fool, giving his name away to someone who would never value it.
“Hashim” isn’t his real name, but Hashim doesn’t know his true name. As an ifrit, he’s little more than an indentured slave, a magical creature bound to serve the man who holds his true name. Yashar was the wizard who summoned him, who tasked him to fool the faerie prince, but Hashim fell in love with a half demon instead. To punish Hasim, Yashar sold his services to the Ringmaster, a large and violent creature who runs the Twilight Carnival, a place where the inhuman and the demi-human are used for attractions so long as they bring in money… and vanish when they do not.
Call it fate or destiny or simply divine whim, but Hashim and Smith will be brought together when Enchanted Occasions Event Planning rents out the Twilight Carnival to cater to an event a hundred years in the making, as all the vampires in North America descend for a night of gluttony, violence, and magic. The wall between the realities is thinning just enough for a little bit of trouble and a whole lot of magic on this one night. Torn between a homicidal goblin chef, an enraged minotaur, and thousands of hungry vampires, Smith somehow has to find a way to free Hashim and all the other Carnival slaves before time, and his flame, runs out.
This is the second book in the Enchanted Occasions series, which started with Nudging Fate, but this can easily be read as a standalone. The premise is simple enough: Smith works as a tech guru at Enchanted Occasions, which caters events for the paranormal communities. While there’s some hinting at a greater story between Smith and Hashim in the first book, you swiftly learn all you need to know here in order to follow them along in this adventure. However, the first book was fun enough and if, like me, you prefer to read a series in order, the first one was certainly an enjoyable read.
Smith is an “aitcher,” a half-and-half or half-breed, neither human nor demon, but something unwanted and in between. Like most aitchers, regardless of their powers or appearance, he was despised by both sides. Fortunately, he, like many others, has found a family at EO, which has a liberal hiring policy and is almost entirely staffed by aitchers. As a fire demon, Smith has certain needs in order to keep himself healthy, and a strict diet that involves meat burned almost to a crisp. It’s a lonely life, being unable to easily touch or hold another person lest his magic cause them pain, and in the ifrit, Hashim, Smith finally thought he’d found someone that could not only take everything he had, but could give, in return. However, after a passionate night, when morning came, Hashim left.
Hashim isn’t an aitcher. He’s a full blooded — or full-flamed? — ifrit. He’s a being of fire and smoke. If he had blood, it would be pure. But, as an ifrit, he’s also bound. He has to be. Hashim is powerful, when freed, and capable of great violence and destruction. The only thing keeping him from getting his vengeance on Yashar or the Ringmaster (or both) are the cuffs on his wrist, the pain they inflict, and the lack of his name. He had no choice in leaving Smith, for all that he wants nothing more than to wrap himself around the half-demon and never let him go.
When we come into the story, we come into a relationship that has already happened. In the first book, the focus was on other characters and there were no scenes between Smith and Hashim to show how the relationship started; we only know that the sparks between them kindled into an unquenchable flame, which was then doused by Hashim’s leaving. It put the book in a difficult place, to make us feel the pain and hurt of two characters we’re only just getting to know, and the grief and loss of a relationship we never actually saw end. However, the two men are likeable enough and the writing is good enough that you can quickly get into their story. It’s just that it lacks the punch I would have personally preferred as we have to take a great deal on say-so rather than seeing it with our own eyes.
For all that this is a romance, the majority of the story is mostly about the wonderful world Russel has made. A world with demons who can hack reality, vampires who have embraced the Twilight craze and cosplay as themselves, delighting in the meta of it all. The world building is wonderful, and the story — the Twilight Carnival, the way magic works, the way the different species come together at EO to make the impossible happen — is captivating. The world building really is the star of the book, which unfortunately causes the romance to take a back seat.
Smith is very proactive, and almost too nice. I would have liked to see just a bit more of the demon side of him, a side that’s hinted at but never fully realized. Hashim’s ifrit nature was fun, when it showed itself, and I liked both the minotaur and the doctor-witch — not witch doctor, thank you very much — as well as the greater look into EO’s berserker Chef. I also enjoyed the few brief glimpses we got of how aitchers and vampires are two sides of the same coin, both of them are half-human (or once-human), but have been changed into something else. Only, vampires get a pass whereas Smith, Hashim, and Brooke never will.
This second installation in the Enchanted Occasions series was a fun read, and I hope for a third (and a forth, maybe even a fifth?) book to follow. The men, monsters, and myths are handled with a light hand, being neither too serious nor too satirical. I also liked Smith and Hashim, though I do wish I could have seen a little more of their relationship. As in the first book, the ending is a little bit too pat, with nothing bad happening to anyone but the bad guy, and everything having a sweet, happily ever after. I disliked how everything was wrapped up off screen, for the most part, for all that the ending of this book was much better handled than it was in book one. I understand wanting a giant dollop of frosting on your cupcake, but I would have preferred just a lttle less sweetness and a little more story.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.