Parker Ferro is a private investigator who finds himself in the middle of a werewolf turf war. Someone has killed two pack leaders and when Parker gets caught taking pictures of one of the pack members for a case, the guy points a finger at Parker for the murders. The only way Parker makes it out of the situation with his life is by agreeing to help the wolves figure out who is really behind the killings. At the same time, Parker is summoned to the fae world where, due to a life debt he has to the Summer Queen, he is tasked with finding a girl in the human realm and bringing her to the Queen. Parker isn’t so hot about potentially bringing an unwilling person to the fae, but he also must obey the direction or risk his life. On top of that, Parker reconnects with Nick King, a cop he met on a past case, who wants Parker’s thoughts on a mysterious death. It seems someone is killing supernaturals and draining them of their magic. With possible connections to the werewolf situation, Parker is now caught between his work for the the police and his obligation to the werewolves to turn the killer over to them. Not to mention, he is about to evicted because he can’t pay his rent. Oh, and did he mention that his foster mother, who is in a coma-like state, is also popping up in his living room as some sort of specter who can chat with him?
As Parker digs more into the various investigations, things get increasingly complicated, with more threads developing that all seem to connect. The trick is figuring out how all the pieces come together. Working on the investigation does give Parker and Nick a chance to grow closer, and the guys start building toward a relationship. But Parker has a complicated past, as well as a lot of secrets. He has learned long ago that people don’t stick around and he is wary about getting too involved with Nick for fear the man will abandon him once he knows the truth. However, things may not even have a chance to really develop with Nick as the hunt for the killer gets increasingly dangerous. With his life on the line, it is going to take all of Parker’s magical skills, along with the help of Nick and some unlikely allies, to make it out alive.
Wormwood Summer is the first book in Kai Butler’s new San Amaro Investigations series and it is off to a great start. I have been on a big urban fantasy kick lately, so I was eager to try this new-to-me author. I think where this story really shines is in the creative world building. This is a vast supernatural world, with all sorts of paranormal beings, including werewolves, vampires, incubi, and more. But the main focus here is on the magic users, and this world seems to have three types: witches, alchemists, and fae. There is a level of mistrust and dislike among the three, with everyone wary of the fae, and the alchemists and witches sort of battling for whose approach to magic is the right one. Parker can do fae magic (though he has to keep that hidden) and Nick is a prominent alchemist, and throughout the book we see them wield their magic in lots of creative and intense ways. Parker’s magic is particularly interesting, and unique among books I have read. He can manipulate the elements, like air, sand, and water, by kind of coaxing them into doing what he wants by way of a conversation of sorts. He convinces the metal in a key to manipulate into a new shape that will allow it to work in the wrong lock, for example. It’s a really unique take on magic and I found the detail great and a lot of fun. There is a lot of intensity here as we see magic wielded in some big battle scenes and watching the way the different practitioners work is really great. I did find at times the explanations of the different magical types and how things work were a little confusing, but still, this is a really creative world.
Butler does a nice job here building a story with a lot of different threads that seem unrelated at the start, but pretty much all coalesce together over the course of the book to tie together. For a while, it seems like a million plates are spinning in the air and it feels impossible to imagine how the pieces will all fit, but Butler pulls it off well. The seemingly disparate clues manage to come together and the investigation is interesting and intense. There were times when it felt a little overwhelming; my summary above just touches on some of the many pieces of the puzzle that are going on at once. There was also what seemed like a big plot thread left not well explained relating to an old case where Parker is owed money. It is presented as a very big deal and mentioned frequently, but it happens prior to the start of the book and, from what I can tell, it is never actually explained. Given that Parker lost all his money as a result and the clock is ticking on his eviction, I wanted to get some explanation of what happened (though we get hints that more is coming in the next book). That said, I am still impressed by how well Butler built this story and it made for a mystery I could really sink into and enjoy.
The story is told from Parker’s POV and this feels like mostly his journey. We know from the start that Parker has fae magic, but just how that all came about is revealed over the course of the book. We also learn that he had a rough past, including living in foster care, and so he is not very confident in his relationship with Nick. Parker worries about people leaving him in general, and with the secrets he is keeping from the straight-laced cop, he figures it is only a matter of time until Nick bails. From a relationship end, these guys are nice together and I liked the way that Nick supports Parker. However, I never felt like Nick is fully developed, nor does their connection ever seem to really come through clearly. Nick is presented as a strict rule follower, one with structure and self discipline. He is also alchemy royalty, coming from a prominent alchemist family. But I never felt like I really got to know him beyond these surface traits as we never really delve much into his character beyond the basics. He also doesn’t play much of a role for chunks of the book where Parker is off investigating. As a result, Nick often felt to me like a side character in the story, rather than one of the main leads. Along with that, I wanted more from the relationship development. The guys basically start hanging out and then decide to be boyfriends. We see them spend time together and it is clear they enjoy each other’s company, but I never felt much chemistry or emotion between them, or even really understood what the men liked about one another. They clearly find each other physically attractive, but I wasn’t sure what else is drawing them together. There are so many places where Nick comprises his beliefs or breaks rules for Parker, but we never get any sense of why, or what makes this connection important enough to him to change his normal behavior. Again, it just felt very much on the surface, and while I enjoyed these guys as a couple, I never really felt the emotional side of their connection. This story ends in an HFN, which befits the first book in an ongoing series, so I expect more will come in future books. But if the guys are going to be boyfriends, I wanted to really feel it more between them.
All that said, I really enjoyed this book and was impressed with Butler’s style. The world building is expansive and interesting and the story manages to take many pieces and pull them all together well. It is exciting and engaging and really got me eager for more in this world. This book sets the stage for a lot of interesting stories and I am looking forward to seeing what is to come.
A Haunting at Midwinter is a free short prequel to the San Amaro Investigations series. It takes place before Wormwood Summer and we get to see the case where Parker and Nick meet. Parker has been called in to investigate a rental house that is haunted. When the cops show up, things get complicated as Parker can’t reveal his true magic or his reason for being in the house to Nick and his partner. It also sets up a conflict between Parker who is there to stop the ghosts, and alchemist Nick who doesn’t actually believe ghosts exist.
The ghosts start trouble almost immediately, leaving Parker and Nick struggling to expel them and make it out alive. The story is exciting and intense and Butler does a nice job introducing both men without giving away too much in this prequel. We get enough to background on the men to set the stage, while still leaving the big moments for the first full story. I think having read this before Wormwood Summer really set me up nicely for the relationship between Nick and Parker, as otherwise it might have felt like we are jumping into things with no real sense of their past connection. So I definitely would grab this one if you can. I enjoyed it a lot and it made me eager to jump into the first book.
This story was originally available for free as part of a big winter giveaway, and you can still get a free copy by signing up for the author’s newsletter.