Frequenting the Five Points area was merely supposed to offer William Hallett a means to find adventure. He is sure he has found exactly that when he notices the goings on of a handful of Russians who seem to be carrying on an illicit business. As William attempts to get closer to the action, however, something strange happens. In fact, many strange things happen. For one, he encounters a benevolent entity that strives to keep him from harm. For another, he discovers his old college chum named Jacob is actually a preternaturally powerful Guardian. Will also learns these Guardians are loyal to the god-like Spruce, son of the very woman who created the Earth. These Guardians are also trying to protect the world from destruction at the hands of Spruce’s twin brother, Flint.
Suddenly, William finds himself with more adventure than he ever could have imagined. Curiously, it is not the fact that the world itself is slipping ever closer to complete destruction that has so wholly captured Will’s attention. Rather, it is his college friend’s Guardian protege, a Mohawk named Joss, who commands every fibre of Will’s being. In an effort to protect William from the looming threat of global violence, Joss attempts to wipe all recent memories of himself and Jacob from Will’s mind. However, the move backfires and leads to a mental connection between Will and Joss, one that grows stronger as the two get to know each other better. While Will, who is half Indian himself, is pleased to rekindle his acquaintance with this aspect of his heritage, Joss struggles to keep his growing romantic attraction to William at bay.
As the two men learn the depth of their connection and explore their growing affection for each other, the danger looms ever closer. Will himself acts as a key conduit through which critical information is disseminated—and it comes both from Flint’s and Spruce’s allies. Soon, Will and Joss and the entire Guardianship realize the time to act is upon them—lest their entire world be destroyed by Flint and his evil machinations.
For clarity’s sake, allow me to point out a few facts about this story. First, this is a historical work that takes place in the 1850s or thereabouts. Second, this is a work of fiction and the author notes both in the front matter and at a few strategic points in the story itself that the American Revolutionary War has not occurred in the story as it did in the real world. Third, there are elements of science fiction in the abilities the Guardians and their foes, the Flintlings, demonstrate (though Joss explains these in terms of physics, so I suppose the science fiction aspect is somewhat debatable).
With those disclaimers out of the way, let us focus on the positives. For one thing, the prose in this story does a marvelous job at capturing the tone and feel of the era. From the description of their dress to their manner of addressing one another, I found Collins brought the period and the characters to life through the prose. There are a myriad of scenes that reinforce the customs and expectations of the time, such as debutante balls and proper etiquette of meeting acquaintances while in public.
One of my favorite elements of the story is the incredible slow burn between Will and Joss. At first, Will is excited about having Joss and Jacob around because it brings Will closer to his maternal side, which is the side with Haudenosaunee bloodline. But as their mental connection grows, Will grows more attached to Joss. This seems to manifest in innocuous ways, but to a reader of an M/M romance, it’s easy to read between the lines. There are several scenes where Will is either blissfully unaware he’s stoking Joss’ fire or Will’s excruciatingly aware his actions could be taken the wrong way (because it’s not crossed Will’s mind that Joss may be gay). I, for one, enjoyed this back-and-forth. When these two finally fall in love—which is to say, when Will finally realizes he actually is capable of loving another man—things changed a bit for me. Overall, I still liked that they are together, but there were some aspects of Joss’ depth of feeling that bothered me. One specific example was how Joss seems to imply the depth of his feelings for Will is enough to drive Will mad. That is, with the mental link the two share, they are able to communicate words and emotions telepathically. At one point, Joss is able to send thoughts to Will that lead Will to two shattering orgasms. It is here that Joss states that this is merely a fraction of how much he loves Will and if Joss were to subject Will to the full extent of his feelings, Will could not handle it. This makes Joss sound like a bit of a creeper to me, ala “you’ll never love me as much as I love you.” On the one hand, it’s clear that Joss is well and truly and desperately in love with William; on the other hand, some of the ways he verbalizes his emotions carry this quasi-creeper element to them.
There is also a lot of action in this story. I admit, I wasn’t able to follow along with how everything fit together. Some of this, I gather, is by design. For example, one of the most powerful allies on Flint’s side (i.e. the bad side), seems to be trying to help the Guardians in their task to defeat Flint. It was easier to follow threads that had clear connections to either the Guardians or to Flint. However, there was a significant side story involving a debutante out to ensare Will as her husband. There was a lot to enjoy about this side story in terms of suspense (you know they’re walking into a trap of sorts), hurt-and-comfort (when the trap is sprung, Joss has to save Will), and action (a big old battle). On the other hand, I’m unclear how this story fits into the Flint-versus-Guardians narrative. Nevertheless, the bulk of the action and the players on page do fit into the dichotomy.
Finally, I am compelled to mention this book ends on a cliffhanger. I didn’t exactly see it coming, myself. While I thoroughly enjoyed this story, it was a “slow” read for me. The chapters also tend to run long and with few scene breaks. I was surprised to realize I only had about 5% left of the book to read and a major shift in the balance of power between the Guardians and the Flintlings had just been revealed.
Overall, I’d say this is a delightful read featuring an immersive world and a compelling love story. It’s got elements of “out for you” and tinges of obsession. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and fantasy will probably enjoy this title. The main characters are also all deeply connected to First Nations and at least some of the cultural trappings figure prominently into elements of the story.
Note: We use the term “Indian” in this review as that is the term used in the story