When he was 12, Collin fell in love. On vacation with his family, Collin was finally deemed old enough to be trusted out alone and, in search of adventure, Collin headed to one of the more challenging runs. There, on top of a mountain with only the trees and the sky and the snow to bear witness, Collin met a man so broken, in such pain, begging Collin for forgiveness and promising to find him again, that he couldn’t help but fall head over heels for him. The man vanished, leaving Collin with only the memories of the red-eyed man and a name engraved on a coin, Marke Staple.
Marke Staple turns out to be a college, a prestigious one in England, and Collin spends the next years of his life trying to be good enough to enroll, all in the hopes of finding the red-eyed man. To his delight — not that he doubted it for a minute — Collin is accepted to a school where, rather than math, he will be learning magic. And who should be his roommate? None other than the red-eyed man whose name is Terrence, and whose eyes are now a clear, pure blue. Where is the man Collin has loved for the past six years of his life?
The more he learns about Terrence, the more Collin knows what his true purpose is: Not just to study magic, but to find a way to turn this blue-eyed boy into the broken man from his dreams.
Collin is so obsessed with the man he saw once, the man whose pain and anguish thrilled him, that he’s never had another lover, never felt attraction for anyone who wasn’t the red-eyed man. Until Terrence. And then, only then, because Terrence will one day be that man. Collin flings himself at his roommate, knowing he should go slowly, knowing he shouldn’t push things … but knowing, even as he does, that Terrance will love him, has to love him, because Collin loves him back.
Terrence is the son of the headmaster and could have been a powerful mage on his own, but rather than be content, as a child he summoned a demon to ask for more power. His father was able to catch his son in time and banish the demon, but it cost Terrence his magic, and cost him any chance of a bond with his father. Even now, Terrence does his best to manipulate the oh-so-eager Collin into a relationship so he can use the other boy’s magic as he looks for a way, any way, to summon the demon and try again. Terrence doesn’t care what it costs, so long as he gets his magic back.
Collin, in all of his time in the book, never once thinks: Hey, things could be different! I don’t have to let Terrence suffer pain and anguish, I don’t have to let him destroy himself so he comes crawling back to me, begging for forgiveness. He never once thinks to love Terrence as he is now, to help the young man who obviously needs help. Collin wants the tragic and broken figure he met when he was 12, and he’ll keep adding fuel to the fire until Terrence becomes what Collin wants him to be.
Collin is obsessive, an enabler, and they’re both manipulating the other person with no shame or remorse. Terrence manipulates other people, using stolen magic to do his bidding and then using yet more magic to erase their memories. Collin knows this, sees this, and then decides to keep helping Terrence to the edge of the cliff. Because it isn’t love for Terrence that Collin feels, it’s love for the emotional wreck who begged a child to forgive him.
Aside from the unpleasant and unhappy relationship between the two young men, the story itself fell a little flat for me. The pacing is very lopsided, with the first 20% being relatively slow and languid as Collin gets to college, gets his room, wanders the halls — in fact the subject of magic doesn’t come up until a third of the way into the book — and then we spend the next thirty to forty percent on world building and exposition dumps about magic as Collin attends class and takes notes. The actual climax where Collin (metaphorically) pushes Terrence off the cliff and the fallout from the action happen so quickly that it took me a minute to realize that was it, the book was over.
Fans of magical schools might enjoy the world building — in England, of course — filled with quirky professors, a random mention of a sports rivalry, dragons and other monsters, and a magical library, but for me, there was too little of either anything new or anything to advance the plot. The characterizations felt flat and certain resolutions or scenes between two characters — especially Terrence and his father — felt so absolutely contrived and unearned that I had to put the book down for a few seconds.
The ideas had promise, but they took a back seat to the questionable relationship between the two main characters who relied so much on a script that they never seemed to develop as people. Again and again, Collin took actions that he knew would lead Terrence to harm, all so he could have his obsession, and the only time he felt love for Terrence, the person in front of him, seemed to be when Terrence was hurt, upset, unhappy, or afraid. The writing and the efforts at world building couldn’t sustain me through the vileness of Collin’s ‘love,’ and I strongly suggest you turn to another book if you’re looking for a magical college experience.