Library archivist Sebastian Rath is worried about his friend, Kelly O’Neil. Kelly left his job at the library suddenly and Sebastian is sure that it was due to foul play, but no one believes him. Kelly was the library’s bookbinder, a job that should have been Sebastian’s. After all, his family held the position for generations and his mother wanted Sebastian to take over for her, but it wasn’t his passion and he turned it down. So now Sebastian can’t help but feel responsible if something happened to Kelly as a result of his job.
Vesper Rune has come to Widdershins to take on the vacant bookbinder position. But Vesper also has secrets, and a very important reason he needs this job. At first, things are rocky between the men. Sebastian seems to resent Vesper being there and, when Ves gets a mysterious threat warning him to leave the job, he assumes it is Sebastian’s work. But as the men get to know each other and Ves comes to learn more about Kelly’s disappearance, he fears it might be connected to his own mission in Widdershins. He can’t bear the idea of others getting hurt for his actions, so he agrees to help Sebastian dig more into Kelly’s disappearance.
As the men work together, there is definitely an attraction brewing. But Vesper knows he is only in town for a short time, and he also knows there is no way he can get involved with Sebastian, lest his secrets come out. The pair begin to learn more about Kelly’s disappearance, as well as more about what he was researching. It becomes clear that something much bigger is happening, something that is a threat that could bring unlimited power into the wrong hands. When Sebastian and Vesper face threats to their lives, they know they are close to the truth. Now they just have to stay alive long enough to protect the library and the magic it holds. And just maybe, once Vesper reveals his secrets, there is a chance for something more between them as well.
With Unhallowed, we are off on another adventure in the wonderful world of Widdershins, created by author Jordan L. Hawk in his amazing Whyborne & Griffin series. I have made no secret of my love for Whyborne & Griffin. If you’ve read my review of the final book, Deosil, it is basically a love letter to this series and how much I adore it. I have always had a particular fondness for the librarians, a quirky bunch who appear as a supporting part of the original series. The head librarian, Mr. Quinn, is a somewhat ghoulish and mysterious figure who turned out to be ready to lead an army in order to save the world. While the librarians were at times a foil for Whyborne, in particular, they turned out to be heroes when it counted. So I was thrilled to hear that Hawk was creating this spinoff series that focuses on the librarians.
Just to set the stage, Unhallowed takes place eight years after the events of Deosil. It features all new characters (as far as I can tell), with the exception of Mr. Quinn, who serves as a side character here, and Sebastian, who appears briefly in Deosil. So from a story perspective, you could jump in here and follow along (but OMG you guys, read Whyborne & Griffin!). However, there are some fun hidden bits for fans of the original series (I particularly liked Mr. Quinn’s bloody dictionary given a place of honor on his wall). It also gives us a Widdershins that is noticeably changed since we last saw it. It has always been a strange place full of unusual people, and now that the town has faced the end of the world together, they are much more aware of magic and assorted oddities, and pretty much take them in stride. The librarians have always known about magic, but now the rest of the town is pretty much in on it as well. There are some delightful moments between Vesper and Sebastian as they come to realize just how different Widdershins is from the rest of the world. Sebastian doesn’t understand how Vesper’s old library functioned without cursing the books to keep people from stealing them, for example. As always, Widdershins is more progressive than most places at the time, with Sebastian’s homosexuality being a sort of open secret, not to mention his sister having three husbands who are sailors, each coming home at different times.
So with that backdrop, we meet Sebastian and Vesper. Sebastian is determined to find out more about Kelly’s disappearance, both because he cares about his friend, but also because he feels guilty that he failed his mother by not taking the job himself. The fact that his mother died tragically and Sebastian was unable to help her just makes things worse. So he is willing to do whatever it takes, even put his life at risk, in order to figure out what happened to his friend. Sebastian is also a librarian, privy to all the secrets of magic, and so he is nicely placed to accept things that are different and defy understanding. It sets things up well with Vesper, who has some big secrets. The story opens with the line, “The monster boarded the train in Boston.” And while it takes us a while to know just what Vesper is hiding, we know there is something unusual about him from the start. Vesper has a fascinating (and horrible) backstory, and I won’t spoil the slow reveal by telling you more about it here. But it ties nicely in with Widdershins, as well as creating a really empathetic character, even as we see him in the midst of doing some not so good things. I really enjoyed these guys together. We are just getting started on their relationship, but I love Sebastian’s warm heart and easy acceptance. It is just what someone like Vesper needs so desperately — to be loved and accepted, and to find a place to belong. When someone welcomes Vesper with those magic words, “Widdershins always knows its own,” I’ll admit, I teared up to see Vesper get that acceptance he so badly needs.
The story itself is exciting and twisty, slowly unveiling over the course of the book. We delve more into the history of the museum, and the library in particular, which I found really interesting. The plot is thrilling and engaging and sets the stage for the series. I don’t want to get too much into what is happening, because the fun is in the discovery. But I’ll say I found it well done and exciting. I don’t think it quite reaches the intensity of the original series, but we are only at book one and there is a lot more to go in the story. As always, Hawk peppers the book with some real history to tie into his fiction, and this book takes place during the week Halley’s Comet passes by the earth. This event plays nicely with the mystery and events of the book and I liked learning about it from the perspective of the time period. For those wondering, Widdershins’ most famous residents do not appear here (though we do learn through Vesper’s casual glance at a paper that they are out of the country). However, I am curious how Hawk will handle future books, as it seems hard to imagine that one of the world’s most powerful sorcerers would live in town and not be a part of trying to prevent the magical mayhem. I have faith that Hawk will make it work, it’s more curiosity on my part.
So I am thrilled about this new series, and am so happy to be back in the world of Widdershins. As Mr. Quinn tells his staff:
We are the Librarians of Widdershins. Our task is to watch over the town, in whatever way we are able.
We know what mayhem can befall Widdershins, and I am so excited to watch how it all unfolds.