Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars
Narrator: K.C. Kelly
Length: 6 hours, 48 minutes
Nothing in his personal life is working out like witch Killian Barth would like. For one thing, everyone expects him to marry a witch named Lavender because she is nearly as powerful as he is and he is the most powerful witch in a century—never mind that he is gay and she is in love with someone else. For another thing, the new physics professor named Blaine at the university where Killian teaches is the hottest thing on two legs and utterly beyond Killian’s reach. Not because Blaine isn’t interested in Killian and certainly not for lack of interest on Killian’s part, but rather because Blaine is as human as they come and Killian’s kind must never consort with humans lest the humans drain all the power from the witch.
Resigned to doing his duty, Killian is desperate to make some kind of meaningful connection to a suitable man (read: witch) before he’s bound in holy matrimony. As Killian tries to conjure up a suitable partner, he begins to question the veracity of the taboo regarding human/witch pairings. He is first thrown off when not one, but two humans are able to see through witch glamour meant to camouflage his cat familiar. He begins to further question the taboo pairings when he meets and befriends real human/witch pairings…and eventually learns just how wrong the oral histories concerning humans draining a witch’s magic truly are. But this knowledge alone will have precious little impact if he cannot get the powerful witch council to listen. He needs proof…and he finds in the most unlikely of places. With any luck, Killian just may be able to find true happiness with Blaine.
From a story perspective, I thought Spell Cat was delightfully layered. As soon as we meet Killian and Blaine, we meet university student Jimmy who ends up being a key supporting character. His side thread is woven through the main action continuously and in such a way that I was truly delighted to have an “aha!” moment when I realized how Jimmy’s story connected with the overarching drama of Killian’s impending marriage. The consistency with which Killian reinforces his learned belief that witch/human pairings are detrimental to be health of a witch is also admirable…and kept me in a constant state of “will they or won’t they” for Killian and Blaine. This tension is further played up when Killian casts a love spell in an effort to find true love before his impending nuptials and Killian seems to vigorously pursue a romantic partner who I thought was so clearly wrong for him. In point of fact, this romantic interest is into BDSM and it’s clear Killian has no taste for it. If on-page descriptions of non-consensual play are off putting for you as a reader, please be forewarned.
I also thought there were some pretty hefty issues with the worldbuilding. First and foremost was the pretense that Killian absolutely must marry a female witch and procreate to save his kind. Lain explains that a witch’s sperm cannot live outside the magical body, but no effort is made to explain why he must *marry* to father children. This detail forever niggled in my mind as the forced marriage trope grew ever more important to the main events of the story. There is also the structure of witch society. There is a “council” of witches that holds so much power that Killian, despite being the most powerful witch and bearing the opaque title of “witch master,” seems to have very little say in what the council does or how it might affect him and other witches. Another was the function of the cat/familiar Aloysius. While Aloysius is a fixture in the book and clearly serves his purpose of making Killian’s magic more powerful, I also feel like if the cat’s presence was entirely decorative—meaning if he were entirely removed from the book, the story would suffer nothing for it. At best, this cat familiar served to confuse my sense of Blaine and Jimmy…both of whom can see past Killian’s spells to hide the cat in plain sight, but only one of these apparent humans has any magical abilities to speak of.
On the whole, I would sum up Spell Cat as feeling like a tawdry “bodice ripper.” The attraction between Killian and Blaine is immediate and intense. Descriptions of their mutual desire are as graphic as they are blunt, but if you enjoy seeing two men almost literally beside themselves with lust, then I think you’ll enjoy the way Killian and Blaine lose control around each other. There’s also the fun of seeing a “unrequited love” situation resolved as Killian eventually finds a way to be with Blaine and achieve an HEA ending.
As far as the audio quality for this book goes, I have a rather mixed opinion of narrator K.C. Kelly. Personally, I didn’t feel like his voice was a good match for this title. Kelly has a natural twang/lilt in his voice that reminds me of nothing so much as Baz Lurhmann’s “Wear Sunscreen”. On the other hand, Kelly turned the shameless sex-for-the-sake-of-sex scenes into goddamned art. Kelly further tries to distinguish various characters by assigning them different voices, but some performances were better than others. Killian’s mother and the main villain were wonderfully voiced. However, I thought the main villain’s voice was recycled for Killain’s short-lived BDSM lover (both characters hail of Europe). There was also the fact that Blaine’s voice in the first chapter was un-accented, but later on, the character inexplicably develops the same European-style accent. That said, the speed and delivery of the audio are such that you could listen at increased speed and still enjoy the performace…and Kelly’s dedication to the cat vocalizations was admirable.
Overall, for fans of Lain or tropes like insta-love and forbidden love, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this title.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.