Rating: 3.75 stars
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After almost twenty-five years, Alec Savage has a rare opportunity to meet his father for the first time. After all, the man hasn’t been a complete deadbeat. But when Alec reaches his father’s home halfway across the country, there is neither hide nor hair of the man. Instead, Alec finds a porch full of broken windows and a steaming cup of tea in a home office. Desperate for answers, Alec finds a phone number with a cryptic message…only to discover it connects him to his paternal uncle, Martin. And immediately thereafter, the hottest thing on two legs walks in and personally escorts Alec to meet the rest of his family.
Whatever happened at Alec’s father’s house can’t be good. So, courtesy of Martin’s magic, Rowan Bouchard gets teleported to DC to escort Alec to the Savage Estate in Montana. For one thing, Alec is about to turn twenty-five and will need all the help he can get as he finally comes into his magic. For another, Rowan has grown up around mages and magic and knows how dangerous it can be. But crisscrossing the country has some unexpected outcomes, too. It’s the first time in his life Rowan has left Martin’s compound, and his first brush with attraction. Rowan never imagined he would be drawn to a man, but Alec is almost irresistibly headstrong, confident, and attractive. Of course, the magic in Alec strongly attracts the familiar in Rowan. But Alec worries Rowan’s feelings may only be a manifestation of the mage/familiar dynamic or simply due to close proximity. And finding time to explore their burgeoning feelings is scary because if one thing is abundantly clear, someone is after Alec’s father. The deeper Alec, Rowan, and the others investigate, the more they realize the attackers are not above using Alec to gain access and that they are willing to sacrifice anyone to achieve their goals.
Savage Estate is a re-release of a contemporary fantasy book from author Vivien Dean. It features a small cast of characters and focuses on the family drama between Alec reuniting with his father, Will. From the beginning, the reader understands Alec is of two minds regarding meeting his father: be resentful about his in-absentia father, or be grateful for the chance to build a relationship. It seems like such a small detail, but I think it did a great job of setting the tone for the father/son relationship. Alec and Will are cordial with each other and generally seem excited about getting to know each other, but there are stark moments where they clearly behave like the other is decidedly not a member of the “inner circle.”
The romance that develops between Alec and Rowan skirts the line of instalove in interesting ways. Alec is demonstrably attracted to Rowan, thinking illicit thoughts and indicating he likes things a bit rough basically from the get-go. Rowan is presented as almost virginal, assuming he’s nothing but cis-het until he realizes he might be attracted to Alec. That complete lack of any romantic experience on Rowan’s part sets up a delicious and sometimes bittersweet element to the Alec/Rowan connection. Alec is happy to act on the mutual attraction he and Rowan develop, but he is also a bit fatalistic about it. Alec is half convinced he’s only getting a shot with the extremely attractive Rowan because of their potential mage/familiar dynamic, or because Rowan has been all but cloistered with his father and Martin in nowhere Montana.
Alec and Rowan’s whole relationship feels very “in the moment and nothing more” thanks to Alec’s assumptions. I appreciated that Rowan, who may have zero romantic or sexual experience but who has all the knowledge about the world of magic, was clear in communicating his interest in building a relationship with Alec without declarations of undying love. I also liked that Rowan tries a few times to explain to Alec that Rowan’s lack of relationship experience is no reason for Alec to question whether or not Rowan wants to pursue a relationship with him.
My main criticism of the book stems largely from the rather nebulous way the main conflict is constructed. It was clear that Alec’s family was and is being targeted. What was less clear was why. On the positive side, by the end of the book, there is a full explanation of who did the targeting. That said, I didn’t really understand why it was Will and Will’s parents who are targeted when we learn that they were not directly responsible for the villain’s plight. This whole thread of Will being a target blasts onto the page in the first chapter and the spectre of a murder mystery gets raised when no one knows where Alec’s father is at first. But the actual developments taper off sharply to focus on Alec being at the Savage Estate. There, the main drama revolves around Alec learning he’s a mage and that he is days away from coming into his magical powers. After the initial thrill of Rowan teleporting to Alec and the mysterious disappearance of Alec’s father, the story quickly settles into one that focuses on Alec and Will finally meeting, Alec and Rowan dancing around their attraction, and Alec trying to learn how to wield his magic.
Even though I thought my attention was unevenly divided between the at-home developments and the someone-wants-to-murder-you developments, the story still holds together fairly well. I was still mostly invested in what happened with Alec and his dad, and was especially interested in Alec and Rowan. The only “WTF” moment in the book came when Alec and Rowan drop everything—everything being that they have captured a character they know to be the key to getting at answers to who is trying to kill Alec’s father—to have a roll in the hay. They even admit they begged Alec’s dad to keep an eye on their captive for the express purpose of fucking. It was…just unfathomably odd. I love me some on-page sex, but there was a stunning lack of finesse in getting Alec and Rowan into each others’ pants.
Overall, Savage Estate is a pretty good read. I liked the interplay between the romantic leads most of all. I liked how Alec is determined to let Rowan make his own choices as much as possible, even if it means letting Rowan go. I enjoyed how Rowan doesn’t mindlessly promise Alec forever, but makes it clear where his heart is right now. The world building was unexpected, but consistent. I just thought the balance between Alec learning about mages and familiars and Alec learning someone’s got a vendetta against his family was a bit off kilter.