At the ripe old age of 23, Finn Parks has sworn off dating. Maybe not forever, but for a few months at least. Especially since he’s headed to Shadowy Pines, where his aunt and cousin live, to help them with their bookstore. After the warm welcome from Poppy and Jude, Finn meets the two strangers who will change the very course of his life: the strange old woman who calls him Miskwaa, and the jaw droppingly gorgeous man with the perfect smile and adorable dimples.
While shopping for groceries on his way to his new home, Finn meets Mr. Handsome again. The stranger introduces himself as Owen and, after a few false starts, Finn finally remembers how to speak just long enough to give Owen his own name in return. Their meeting is interrupted, again, by the strange woman, but she vanishes with only a few cryptic words and some fallen cans. Every time Finn and Owen touch, such as when Owen gives him his card and an invitation for coffee, Finn feels the spark of something … wonderful, like a thrumming of electricity. And he wants more. More of that feeling and more of Owen.
In every small town there are secrets, and both Shadowy Pines and Finn’s family are full of them. First, like his mother, aunt, and cousin, Finn is a witch. Not just any witch, but a powerful witch, perhaps as strong as his mother was. And second, it turns out that Owen’s father killed Finn’s mother. The two families have been at one another’s throats for years. Owen’s grandfather, a witch with dark powers, set off a chain of events leading only to pain and suffering in his search for the perfect magical heir. Finn ought to be giving Owen a wide berth, but when he’s kissing Owen, Finn can’t feel anything but want and need and that wonderful, magical electricity.
This story is almost — but not quite — a gothic romance. It has a wonderful story of money, magic, love, and hatred, with a fair dash of betrayal and family curses, but there’s more explaining than exploring. The Romeo and Juliet path that Finn and Owen are on never goes anywhere, and the climactic scene with the villain finally revealing himself is quickly and indifferently handled. But, the writing is good and for a novella, it reads quickly enough. I just wanted an entire slice of cake where this story just gave me a bite.
Finn is flighty, open-minded, friendly, and … young. He reads like a twenty-something. There isn’t a mean bone in his body and even when he’s given the opportunity to judge a book by its cover — when he’s given the story of the enmity between his family and Owen’s family — Finn is calm and thoughtful and wants to hear Owen’s side, too. He doesn’t rage and sulk or blame Owen for something that is no more his fault than it is Finn’s, and it’s refreshing to see a protagonist not instantly taking as gospel the words of anyone and everyone but the person they’re in a relationship with.
Owen, too, is a young man, but is more aloof and cautious than Finn. He’s been a witch much longer and has been more secure in his life with a wealthy family to support him. He comes across as just as much of a victim of circumstance as Finn. Owen’s in Shadowy Pines to look over a vineyard, not to cause trouble, but is instantly caught by Finn. When, at a delicate moment, Owen finds Finn drunk and needy, he agrees to join his new lover for the night. He very sweetly and gently puts Owen to bed and then gets in beside him and goes to sleep.
The relationship between them is a bit too convenient, for me. The same night Finn learns he’s a witch, he throws himself at Owen and takes him to bed. Much of their relationship is based on physical chemistry — the buzz of their two magics together really gets Finn’s engines going — and yet, even with that, they’re not instantly in love. Just really, really, really in lust with one another. When it comes to confrontations and accusations, they talk to each other. Finn listens to what Owen has to say and Owen doesn’t get upset just because Finn has understandable questions, as a past he never knew about has just been shoved in his face. Their relationship started on a good foot, but it feels like it didn’t have a chance to get much farther or to grow beyond that first honeymoon phase.
While the characters and their relationship more or less worked for me, the plot didn’t. There’s a nice hint of a gothic story involving witches and bloodlines and dark magic, but for all that this is a book about witches, the magic is almost invisible. The background plot involving Finn’s parents and their death — and the evil witch (Owen’s grandfather) — are told to us in quick exposition. There’s barely any time for reactions or feelings before it’s time to save the day and destroy the evil witch, an event involving a “non-protagonist resolver,” or a human Deux ex machina. I hate the trope, personally. If the powerful protagonists and their attendant side characters can’t handle the climactic battle without having to be saved by a surprisingly more powerful character coming out of nowhere to save their butts, then maybe they shouldn’t have put themselves into that position.
That said, there were some points in this book I really liked. When the creepy old woman gives mysterious warnings to Finn, he and Jude look it up on Google. The idea of spells working differently depending on the language they were spoken in, which, in turn, depended upon the geographic area they were in or what the item they were using was for, or where it was from, was interesting. Unfortunately, beyond one comment, it didn’t really go anywhere. Neither did the bluebirds. Instead of being a plot point as the old woman had predicted, they were nothing more than a blue herring. With all the hints and possibilities, I think there could be an interesting world here. There just wasn’t enough room for everything the author wanted to show us.
There were cute moments and interesting ideas, but the story was spread too thin (due in large part, I imagine, to being a novella rather than a full book). Between a promising plot that devolved into exposition, a confrontation and resolution that ended up being taken care of not by one of the main characters, or even a cousin or aunt, but by some random character, and a relationship that felt like it had just gotten started, this book just didn’t quite satisfy me. Again, there were parts that worked and parts I liked and I’ll be keeping an eye on this author. I just wanted a little more out of this story.