Rowan Harbor is a small town filled with the usual suspects. The nosy neighbors, the busybodies, and the friendly people down at the local watering hole. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else and no one feels the need to lock their door at night. Only… the two deputies turn hairy on the full moon, the owner of the popular yarn store happens to be half-fae, and a vampire runs the bar. Witches, warlocks, and werewolves abound, as well as succubi, shape shifters, and a talking tree. Welcome to Rowan Harbor!
Recently, the small town has been under attack by an unknown force intent on destroying everything and every one, and no one knew why until the puppet master pulling the strings of the vampires, paranormal hunters ,and possessed minions revealed himself. Someone in the faery world wants to kill Devon and destroy Rowan Harbor. Devon managed to chase him off, but at great cost. The wards that have guarded the town are broken, and in order to fix them, someone has to go into the faery realm and find the Tree of Wisdom.
Devon can’t go. For all that he’s half-fae, he’s the heart of the town. Wade, his werewolf husband, has to stay and protect everyone. Vampires don’t get along well in the mystic fae realms and Isla, their witch, has to stay behind to prepare the spell. So, Jesse, the town’s bookkeeper, is going. After all, it’s not as if anyone’s going through an audit, right now. Sticking like glue is Sean, Jesse’s boyfriend, whose magic — unlike Connor, their sorcerer — is more natural and might be less of an issue with the fair folk.
This is book eight in the Rowan Harbor Cycle and isn’t meant to be read as a stand alone. You could try, but you’d be missing out on the wonderful world building and delicate character work Burns has put into this series. Ever since the first book, I’ve been charmed by the flavor of this world and — as this book focuses on my favorite character in Rowan Harbor — I’m pleased to say that the quality and charm continues in this latest installment.
Jesse is a werewolf, and the “alpha” of Rowan Harbor (though he hates that word; alphas aren’t a real thing. It was all made up by someone, and now no one will let it go!) It’s taken him some time to get over his past troubles — an abusive lover, his feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and shame — and he’s truly grown into himself. He not only found his footing, he found Sean, who is almost everything Jesse ever wanted in a lover. And if all it takes to make his town safe is to go into the woods and find a tree, then done. And if it means someone has to get hurt and bleed, then Jesse’s going to be the one to do it. He’d rather die than see anyone he cares for get hurt.
Sean lived his life thinking he was human. He was happy being human! He liked being human. Unfortunately, he’s not quite as human as he thought he was. Sean is a succubus and is still learning about his powers. Fortunately, he has all of Rowan Harbor to help. He also has Jesse, who Sean is quite madly in love with. For all that Jesse gets growly and dominant with everyone else, it’s Sean he turns to when they’re together. Sean helps Jesse deal with the stress of the day, and in return, Jesse puts up with the squirrels who have moved into the house with them.
In this book we get to see them more as a couple, without the interference of teenagers, or Devon, or the crisis of the week. We get to see Jesse’s desires to protect Sean, to wrap him up and keep him safe, and how Sean fights to be seen as an equal. Even for such a perfect, loving couple there are moments where the desires of one partner don’t mesh perfectly with the other, but that’s part of life. Jesse has to learn to let Sean decide his own path, even if it’s one that leads him into danger. Sean won’t let Jesse go into the unknown without him, and Jesse will just have to accept that the man he loves has his own thoughts, and maybe even his own need to protect Jesse.
The truth strength of these books likes in the relationships between the characters. The natural ease of established friendships and the slow growing of new ones. There’s never a doubt these people are — for lack of a better word — human. They love one another, but they can also fight. There are misunderstandings, good intentions that cause people to do the wrong thing, and the acknowledgement that everyone can be scared, or uncertain, no matter who or what they are. Jesse doesn’t want Sean to go, but he’s willing to listen:
“Fine. Convince me you need to go.”
Sean shook his head and turned halfway in his seat to look at Jesse. “That’s not the way it works, Jess. I don’t have to convince you, because my actions aren’t up to you. I’m an autonomous person, and I get to decide for myself.”
Dammit. He was gonna use logic.
These are two men who love one another, and it shows. It’s part of why I enjoy these books so much. They feel so familiar and comfortable. It’s the small town of colorful characters who just so happen to be a little different from everyone else, and yet are still — beneath feathers, furs, and scales — just as human as everyone else. These stories are like a cup of tea on a cold night, or a cookie for dessert. They’re light, they’re fun, and when you’re in the mood they just hit the spot.
As we near the end of the series, events are ramping up to a final conclusion. However, at the end of this eighth book, there is no giant, cinematic battle. That’s something that would feel out of place in this world. Instead, it’s quiet, it’s subtle as the characters take actions based on thought and knowledge rather than the knee-jerk “raaa, kill the bad guys!’ Even when facing people who are, in fact, slightly evil, Jesse and Sean use guile rather than growling, and their way of dealing with the guardian of the Tree of Wisdom feels very in character to both Jesse and the world of Rowan Harbor.
The writing has, in my opinion, improved over the course of the books. The pacing is a bit slow — especially as the book is less than 150 pages — but Burns has never left me feeling rushed through the story. The mythology that continues to be sprinkled in is enjoyable, and the humor is quiet and understated. If you’ve read and enjoyed the other books in this series (as I have), you’ll enjoy this one.