Story Rating: 4.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: Erik Bloomquist
Length: 9 hours, 17 minutes
Tasked with assisting his paranormal friends destroy a magical artifact with the power to enslave non-magical people, Arthur “Ace” Kenzie finds himself desperately missing his younger lover, Rory Brodigan. But the separation is necessary. Rory is arguably poised to become one of the most powerful paranormals ever with psychometry—the ability to see into an object’s past. And the less knowledge Rory has about various and sundry paranormal goings on, the safer he is from Baron Zeppler. The Baron is hell bent on becoming the most powerful man in the world, wishing to enslave all non-magical people. And if he could combine his telepathy with Rory’s psychometry, he would be omnipotent.
Rory agrees that preventing the Baron from acquiring any more power is in everyone’s best interest. He is just loathe to the fact that it so often seems to put his non-paranormal paramour in harm’s way. And with a bond that connects him to Ace, and Ace to him, they have a preternatural ability to know when one or the other is in trouble. It’s all thanks to Rory’s psychometry magic being bonded to Ace’s aura. For Rory, the bond represents a depth of commitment that has been extremely rare in his almost-twenty one years of life. And Ace naturally assumes the role of safe harbor. But when Ace finds out his aura is more dependent on Rory’s magic than he realized, the roles of protector and protected get uncomfortably flipped. Ace knows he needs to confess this change in his aura to Rory, but with Zeppler’s henchmen closing in and each new attempt at destroying the dangerous relics failing, there just never seems to be any time. Not to mention the fact that Ace desperately wishes to avoid trapping Rory into a relationship. The last thing Ace wants is guilt Rory into making him his first, last, and only lover.
Wonderstruck is the third and (apparently, sadly) final installment in Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series. Fans will be familiar with the 1920s America setting and the wealth- and age-gap between our two main characters, Arthur and Rory. The audiobook version features a stellar 9 hours and 17 minutes of narration by Erik Bloomquist. As someone who does not consider themselves a huge fan of audiobooks, Bloomquist made listening to the whole series an absolute treat. He continued providing a unique vocal profile for all characters with dialogue and does a bang-up job bringing nuance to character interactions through vocal performance. My favorite moment was the scene where he voices Rory talking with a mouthful of croissant.
As for the story itself, I marveled at how Therin seems to “just” get to play around with the characters she created in the world she built. One of the highlights for me was the Gwen and Ellis interplay. In book one, they were firmly established as Arthur’s estranged friends who turned to working for Zeppler for the sake of their own safety. In this book, the line between friend and enemy—insofar as it concerns Gwen and Ellis—is delightfully blurred. I loved the tension these two add to the story. I wanted to trust them, but I was never sure I really could. That said, it was interesting how invested I was in following and questioning what Gwen and Ellis were doing…and how much Zhang and Jade and Ace’s other paranormal friends felt somewhat less interwoven into the fabric of the story.
To be sure, Zhang and Jade, as well as Sasha and Pavel, feature in many scenes. For me, the most crucial role they played was the birthday scene for Rory. This felt like one of the few—if not the only—scenes where the focus is on the friendship. The rest of the scenes left me feeling like these friends of Ace’s, and Rory’s, were mainly fulfilling a function for advancing the plot. Not necessarily always a bad thing, but I was more invested in following the frenemies Gwen and Ellis more so than Ace and Rory’s actual friends. With the exception of Mrs. Brodigan, Rory’s adoptive aunt. She gets written out fairly early due to moving away to get married, but it was heartbreaking how the bad guys use it against Rory.
Speaking of Ace and Rory, Wonderstruck continues with the wealthy-hero (Ace)/poor-hero (Rory) themes. One of the big shifts occurs when Rory actually turns to Ace for real help when Mrs. Brodigan leaves to marry her beau. Although Rory finally allows himself to take Ace up on the offer for help without any expectation of payback, it’s evident that Rory still sees it as a huge imposition. Another Ace/Rory element was arguably far more significant: how the bond Ace and Rory share features prominently in many parts of the story. The bond serves as a sort of bellwether (albeit an imperfect one) for the physical wellbeing of these two. Ace learns his aura is basically permanently tied to Rory’s magic; severing that bond would have dire effects on Ace. I reveled in listening to Ace agonize over how to tell Rory the truth of the matter while all Rory sees is Ace keeping yet another secret from him. This, too, created a hugely delightful bit of tension in the story. The aura thing gets mentioned fairly early on, but it’s not fully resolved until the very end—meaning I had a lot of opportunity to mentally berate Ace for not clearing the air sooner.
The resolution to Ace’s aura issue comes during the climactic final confrontation with Baron Zeppler in the flesh. For me, I thought hashing out this wrinkle in the Ace/Rory relationship during the big fight scene felt a bit strained. On the one hand, the truth gets revealed in a very dramatic way. On the other hand, it wasn’t very satisfying to me that Rory and Ace didn’t get the chance to talk about the implications of this in private.
I was also a bit surprised at how Ace acts towards Rory when the dust has settled after the confrontation with the Baron. One of the big machinations in the magical goings-on in the book is a character who has the power to basically turn people into puppets. Ace falls victim to this character and is forced to act against his lover and his friends. The final scenes of the story pre-epilogue concern Arthur’s guilt about being an unwitting instrument of harm towards Rory and his other friends. My quibble is that Ace seems to feel responsible for these acts down to his bones—to the point of refusing to make eye contact with or speak to Rory and expecting Rory to hold Arthur’s actions against him—but then, the whole thing seems to get resolved over some pillow talk. Of course, this was a rare on-page scene with a bit of intimacy between the two…so maybe it’s a draw.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this installment in the Magic in Manhattan series. Therin pulls on the vast network of characters to weave together another exciting story with comfortably familiar characters. The story is packed with action as Ace and the others travel around North America and Europe looking for ways to prevent Zeppler from getting more and powerful magical items. Many of the more intimate/personal scenes happen as Ace and Rory are traveling from place to place. Anyone who has enjoyed the first two installments will certainly like the ending. For new readers, I suggest starting at book one and enjoying the journey.