Even if it weren’t for the fact that he’s half-fae, Darren wouldn’t be like other people. It’s not just that he was born into the wrong body — though he covers that up by using a glamour to make himself look like the person he knows he is — he’s also going through puberty again. This time it’s not the normal human hormones; it’s spring and his fae powers are going crazy. The birds and bees won’t shut up, the plants are singing, the storms are calling, and everything is going crazier than usual. As a fae, Darren can’t use human medicine to alleviate the pain, instead relying on a local witch and family friend for her herbal remedies.
When Darren goes to Tabitha looking for his medicine, he meets the new boy, Vladimir. Vladimir the vampire. He even has an accent, though it’s Ukrainian, not Romanian. As first meetings go, it isn’t a good one. Both Darren and Vladimir are intent on competing to see who can win in a contest to shove their foot farthest in their mouth, though Darren does seem to be winning, if only by a hair. However, a month later, as Darren once again needs Tabitha’s herbal remedies, the two young men began to form a cautious friendship. Or, rather, Vladimir starts off with caution. Darren has all the energy and good will (and common sense) of a golden retriever with a toy and soon drags Vladimir out of his room and out of his shell.
As Darren learns more about Vladimir’s past, he can’t help but feel sympathy for the young man. Vlad was turned against his will and his parents, even now, think he’s dead. Adding to that, he has no idea what his powers are or how to control them. Knowing he can’t help (though he tries), Darren cautiously suggests that Vlad find another vampire to help, which only opens up another can of worms. But, eventually, Vlad agrees that he needs help and reluctantly agrees to look for a tutor.
Soon, things are going smoothly, more or less. Charlie, the vampire teacher, is helping Vlad with his magic and Vlad is growing more confident both in his powers and in general. Things are calming down and Vlad seems to be looking forward into the future rather than being forever haunted by the past, even as Darren is struggling both with classes and his magic, but that’s nothing to the fight ahead of them both when Vlad’s maker comes looking for her lost son.
How is it a story about a half-fae and his vampire boyfriend can be so … wholesome? Not only is Darren adorable, but he manages to be charming and sweet and good. Vlad may not be Prince Charming, but he has some smooth moves, such as coming to visit bearing chocolate after Darren mentions it in passing as a wonderful way to start a relationship, though he’s talking about an almost boyfriend from when he was thirteen. Darren is a little oblivious and Vlad is a little subtle; fortunately, though, Darren eventually manages to catch on. After Vlad tells him what he’s trying to do. It’s cute.
Darren is a good person. He’s willing to give everyone he meets a chance and is willing to forgive most slights — so long as they weren’t intentional. Even when he’s showing Vlad his magic, it’s not so much showing off as sharing with great joy and enthusiasm. He honestly, truly, and sincerely wants Vlad to be happy, to come out of his shell and out of his room and make friends with people. When Darren realizes he has feelings for Vlad, he’s reluctant to confess them because he doesn’t want to make Vlad uncomfortable, or take away Vlad’s only friend (himself), or have Vlad feeling obligated to humor them. He isn’t selfish, even in his most self-centered moments.
Vlad is struggling with many issues. His family made it clear when he was younger that being with another boy was unacceptable. Not long after, he was kidnapped, forcibly turned into a vampire by a mad woman, and endured months with her. He doesn’t want his family to know he’s alive in case she turns on them, even though it hurts him that he can’t turn to his parents when he wants comforting or protection. He’s in a new world with strange people and his only connection and friend is a hyperactive, sweet, and well-meaning half-fae. But he’s trying, and you can see both how much he struggles to do it on his own and how much he leans on Darren.
The two of them, at first, are so clueless that they decide to give Vladimir garlic to flavor his blood (Vlad has trouble drinking human blood; it smells too much like people) because they’re sure that’s just a myth. After all, the sunlight thing wasn’t true and the internet seems divided on the garlic thing. But, after they’re sure Vlad will live through garlic gate, the two of them stop being quite so comical and become closer, first as friends, and then as boyfriends. Because their friendship was so well developed and so honest, their eventual growth into boyfriends feels so natural and right. Darren has someone who can put up with all his energy, someone he can protect and cling to and take care of, and Vladimir has someone to pull him out of his darkness, someone who will stand with him no matter what. Whether Vladimir likes it or not, he’s stuck with a loving, devoted Darren.
I appreciated the fact that Vladimir began the book as an introvert, and ended it as an introvert. He simply went from being quiet and afraid to being confident. His past will always be with him, but so will his friends and his adopted family. Likewise, Darren’s gender was never an issue. He is male and his friends and family treat him like one. However, there is a lot of talk about cramps, blood, and hormones. While it did feel like the point was hammered home a little much, Darren’s periods did have a purpose. They signaled the approach of his fae puberty, the shifting of his power, and gave him a reason to visit Tabitha and a time for Vladimir to comfort and protect him. And, let’s be honest, it can be a fact of a transman’s life, having to deal with that part of his body.
The world building was subtle and wonderful. While it’s a kitchen sink of every single magical creature you can think of thrown together, it’s done in such a natural and off-handed way. There’s no special point to be made, no drawn-out discussion of persecution or humans vs paranormals, it was just … life. I want to live in this world where students learn potions and weather magic alongside math, English, and history. The writing was good, and while the plot lingered a bit much and the pace did slow down a bit in the middle of the book, I loved the characters and enjoyed the story so much so that I easily forgave it. This was a charming coming of age story with a paranormal twist and it was so pure and sweet and, yes, wholesome. If you’re a fan of paranormal romances, charming fae, or good stories, give this book a chance.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.