More than a hundred years ago, magic returned to the world in a devastating surge of power akin to a nuclear explosion, killing all technology and filling the world with mythical beings whose existence relies on magic. Thomas is considered an original vampire, having been changed into one by the Return. While out hunting one night, he spies a wolf and decides to follow it on its hunt, as he is not having any luck. Unbeknown to Thomas, the wolf in question is a werewolf named Justin whose lover, Ian, isn’t pleased that his partner is being stalked by a vampire.
After a confrontation, bloodshed, and a clearing of the air, Justin and Ian invite Thomas back to their cave for the night. Nervous but excited by the unexpected opportunity for companionship, Thomas follows the pair home, where he gets to know them intimately. Sharing stories is as natural as sharing passion, and soon Thomas finds himself recounting some of his experiences during the Return, and feeling a contentment he hasn’t experienced in ages and that may just compel him to stay awhile.
The Magic Returns is…different. Only three chapters long, the majority of the narrative is structured like a bedtime story, with the characters literally snuggled up in post-coital bliss, while Thomas tells them about the day of the Return and the relationship he formed soon afterwards. I enjoyed the concept of having magic simply change humans into otherworldly beings, and the supposition about why technology failed so spectacularly (a gremlins ex machina, if you will) is a fun, tried and true favorite. Unfortunately, the story’s sleepy time framework also seeped into the narrative, creating a placid, quiet, and, for me, superficial and boring set of tales.
Sadly, since The Magic Returns is a short, erotic romance, it falls into the common trap of skimping on character development. All three men are fairly two-dimensional, with a few descriptive sentences dedicated to outlining their main personality traits, and while the story is told from Thomas’s POV, he isn’t any more fleshed out than Justin or Ian. Early on, the narrative is sprinkled with information pointing to life-altering and character-shaping occurrences, but literally says “Never mind that nonsense.” If nothing else, I applaud this commitment to light, kinky fun. Whether intentional or not, even the monumental, world-changing events and emotional moments Thomas shares come across as a bit flat and secondary to the main focus—the sex.
For one thing, Thomas’ experience on the day of the Return is mostly limited to information shared by his roommate, Brad, as the surge (and thus, Thomas’ transformation) happened early in the day, forcing him to hide in the windowless bathroom all day to avoid sunlight. When he does go out, his descriptions are pretty standard apocalypse fare. Additionally, he and Brad are so well-read in the fantasy genre that Thomas’ sudden vampirism is pretty much met with a shrug by Brad. While I don’t have a problem with characters being well-acquainted with “The Rules” of their genre or taking the unbelievable in stride, as the story lacked any tension (even sexual), this blitheness just added to my sense of “meh.” Overall, I was left feeling like I had read a late addition prequel from an unfamiliar series featuring some fan favorite characters—something that is supposed to be quick, dirty fun for the fans because they know the characters from other books, but seems underdeveloped to a casual reader.
For the most part, there are few typos that distract from the story; however, I found the few inconsistencies jarring, especially regarding Thomas’ physiology. Thomas refers to his lack of breathing, heartbeat, etc. so often you’d get wasted halfway through the story if his mentions were part of a drinking game. As lack of heartbeat, breath, and an unknown fluid perfusion mechanism are my vampire default settings, it became tedious pretty quickly. With all the reminders, I was shocked to read about “Thomas’s pulse pounding even faster” soon followed by “his pulse hadn’t raced for he had none anymore,” in one of the few moments seemingly meant to be poignant/emotional. For the most part though, the story is consistent, particularly in its slumberous and superficial tone, even in its all-important sex scenes. While aspects of some of the sex can be described as interesting, such as Thomas going down on a shifter in his cougar form or putting his penis down the muzzle a half-shifted wolf (soooo many sharp teeth, Thomas!), the sex itself is pretty basic and not very erotic in my opinion. It’s like the taboo/kinky nature of the pseudo-bestiality and its “shock/titillation” factor are used as shorthand or a substitution for compellingly written steamy sex.
While there was no magic for me in The Magic Returns, the story and its Princess Bride structure isn’t terrible. It may appeal more to people looking for a bit of quick, simple PNR escapism without the weight of all the worldbuilding and/or those seeking stories where the shifter sex is furrier, less humanoid, and/or full on animal.