Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Erik Bloomquist
Length: 10 hours, 36 minutes
After the magical fiasco that left Coney Island in tatters and Rory Brodigan and Arthur Kenzie reeling from the whole deal, which was orchestrated by power-hungry Baron Zeppler, the new lovers Rory and Arthur have found a moment of peace at the up-state New York home of one of Arthur’s brothers. Although “peace” may be a bit of an overstatement with a house full of servants and children. Even among family, there isn’t a chance of Rory and Arthur being able to steal any time alone together. And when their up-state respite ends, Arthur is pulled into one family obligation after the other. Most notably, his elder brother is making a run for the senate and hopes that having Arthur wine and dine a British peer for a society event will put John on even firmer footing politically speaking. The only caveat is that this peer is also a former lover of Arthur’s—a fact that does not sit well with Rory one bit.
While Arthur has his hands full attending to the myriad needs of his family, Rory is struggling to contain his new magic—enhanced as it is by the powerful Tempest Ring. He knows the power the relic grants him is dangerous, but he is also sure that the ring could potentially be bound to a friend and fellow paranormal who has been lost in his own magic for years. While he and Arthur’s paranormal friends, Jade and Zhang, explore how to handle the power of the ring, they begin to notice strange disturbances with their magic. And when a non-magical man connected to the people responsible for the Coney Island ends up dead from magic, the whole group is on high alert, waiting for any move by Zeppler. The immediate danger, however, comes from a man from Arthur’s past—one who has a score to settle with Arthur and who also finds Rory a very convenient means to get out from under Zeppler’s powerful control.
Starcrossed is the second installment in Allie Therin’s 1920s paranormal series Magic in Manhattan. The action picks up rather soon after the events in the first story, Spellbound, come to a close. The audio book is again narrated by Erik Bloomquist and clocks in at a whopping 10 hours and 36 minutes—yet I found myself powering through and, towards the end, desperate for a few more chapters. Bloomquist does an exquisite job rendering many varied and sundry characters. It seems like every bit of dialogue gets fitted with a unique voice profile, from main and supporting characters to bit players with just a couple spoken lines. The character acting, and especially the bits where Rory speaks when he’s flustered, were the highlights of the audio for me. The narrating voice is again in another tone, but by comparison, it feels a bit dry to me. Regardless, Bloomquist’s narration is consistent and well-paced.
As far as the story goes, I really enjoyed how Therin moves the characters through the story. There is a scene while Rory and Arthur are still in up-state New York where the characters are off in separate parts of the town. Rory is, against everyone’s better judgement, attempting to scry the Tempest Ring, despite knowing it has the power to literally blow houses down. Arthur is fulfilling the first of many obligations to his family. The drama comes because Rory has decided that the best location to scry the ring is in the middle of the frozen Hudson River. I loved how the chapters/sections flip flopped between Rory’s perspective and Arthur’s. The parallel unfolding of events made for delightful tension, and the whole thing culminated in a chaste bit of hurt-comfort in a monastery of all places.
One of the biggest themes in book two echoes those from book one: Rory and Arthur dealing with classism. I thought there was less emphasis on Rory not feeling good enough for Arthur/Arthur trying to convince Rory that class doesn’t matter. Instead, the focus seemed to be on how both men have sort of unilateral understanding of classism. For example, Rory is perfectly accepting of his housing situation. A crappy room shared with insects and vermin is what he can afford and if the sheets are dirty, well, at least he has sheets at all. But when asked how he’d feel if it were Arthur sleeping in that same dwelling, Rory immediately balks at the very idea of his lover suffering such accommodations. It speaks to me how blind Rory seems to be when it comes to his own mean circumstances, even when he immediately recognizes those same circumstances simply will not do for someone he cares about.
Honestly, I thought the presence of one of Arthur’s former lovers would be a bigger angst point. To be sure, there was more than a bit of jealousy—especially when Arthur admits said former lover took liberties—but I liked how our main characters handled this aspect of Arthur’s past. There are plenty of other things that happen that Arthur fails/forgets to mention to Rory that wreak havoc later in the story…but the fact that Arthur has been roped into playing escort is not one of them. Maybe there isn’t a grand misunderstanding about the attractive, wealthy man from Arthur’s past, but there is still room for the characters to experience and work through some jealousy. And I particularly liked the scene where Arthur’s ex manages to track down Rory and tries to “win” Arthur back by buying Rory off. I thought it showcased Rory’s confidence in his feelings for Arthur and Arthur’s feelings for him.
As far as the climactic scenes go, I was a bit surprised to see who turns up at the very end—and behave in chaotic neutral ways. Aside from this surprise, I was eager to see the main baddie. He is responsible for war-time torture Arthur suffered and is, quite literally, a monster. Unfortunately for me, I thought some of his thunder was stolen in how quickly and uneventfully his plot line plays out (read: I was hoping for a lot more drama during the big fight). Plus, the old faces turning up added a layer of complexity that, honestly, I think I’d have to read on-page and compare to events in the first book to really appreciate.
Overall, I thought Starcrossed was an excellent addition to the Magic in Manhattan series. I loved seeing how Rory and Arthur’s relationship flexes under the societal strains and how there are explicit scenes that help readers really imagine what it would have been like to be gay in 1920s America. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy this addition and the audio book has a strong showing from Bloomquist.