Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Greg Boudreaux
Length: 6 hours, 38 minutes
Poe Dupin is a raven shifter (and a thief) who runs a jewelry store in his Baltimore neighborhood. He cares about his roost and the people who live there and does his best to help out as much as he can. That is complicated by his stepfather, Ethan, who is also the roost alpha. Ethan is arrogant and cruel and has gotten himself in way over his head once again. This time, he owes a big gambling debt and he expects Poe to figure out how to pay it. Since Poe is part of the roost and Ethan has all the control, Poe has little choice but to figure out how to cover the debt. His only option seems to be seeking out the infamous demon, Tommy Tittoti, for help.
When Poe meets Tommy, he is nothing like Poe expects. Rather than appearing big and intimidating, he is an adorable twink that Poe is into immediately. But there is a lot of power hiding behind that facade and Tommy is ruthless with those who bargain with him and don’t hold up their end of the deal. He is willing to help Poe… for a price, of course; Tommy’s demon nature allows nothing less. And all is well, until it isn’t and Ethan messes things up once again and Poe has to return to Tommy’s doorstep. Tommy is able to help, but he warns Poe it’s not a good idea to need a third bargain from a demon.
As Poe interacts with Tommy, he finds himself seeing the softer side of the demon, not to mention the sexy side. The two have a heat between them that can’t be denied, even as Poe knows getting involved with a demon is a bad idea. Tommy may look sweet, but he can incinerate a man as easily as breathing. But there is a clear connection between them, and while Poe has always been a lone bird, he can start to imagine something more with Tommy. However, with Ethan still causing trouble and Poe desperate to protect his family and his roost, Poe may find that he has no choice but to once again bargain with a demon.
The Demon’s in the Details is a really fun and creative fairytale retelling by Meghan Maslow. The story was originally published in the Fables Retold Anthology and has now been released as a standalone with no new content. The story is based on the Rumpelstiltskin fable, but Maslow takes that foundation and builds a whole new paranormal world, bringing it beyond the original story in scope. Some beats are more subtle, like Poe making three bargains, and some more overt, like the name of Tommy’s shop or the fact that he can turn straw into gold. I liked that there was enough of the bones that I could see the original tale, but that Maslow really expands and elevates the story to something far more complex and engaging. There is a lot of world building here, and for me, the most fun was Tommy, who Poe dubs a “murder twink.” Tommy is incredibly powerful and at times ruthless, a slave in many ways to his demon nature. So while he may look cute, you don’t want to cross him. Maslow gives Tommy the right balance between being suitably fierce and a little scary, but also showing that softer side. He wants to take care of Poe, cares about Poe’s young half-siblings, and looks out for his people. You may not want to go up against Tommy, but once he claims you as one of his, he is fiercely protective and quite caring.
The story takes place in Baltimore and Maslow makes great use of the city as a backdrop to the book. As someone who comes from a family of Baltimoreans, as well as living my entire life not far from the city, I appreciated all the touches. In addition to visiting many famous landmarks, Maslow also makes some obvious plays on Edgar Allen Poe, a Baltimore native, through Poe’s name and the fact that he is a raven shifter. It adds some fun to the story, with Maslow’s trademark humor, but also gives a nice real world foundation over which to lay the supernatural world Maslow has created.
The only place that I felt I wanted more from the world building was with regard to Poe, both with being a raven shifter and a thief. I feel like neither really develops into a strong element of the book, being far outweighed by Tommy as a demon and the various neighborhood politics. We open the book with Poe running a heist and we are told he is thief, alongside running his jewelry shop. But beyond that opening, and an element that reconnects late in the book, his being a thief never really ends up being all that important to the story. It adds a bit in the sense that Poe has enough morally dubious about him that he can tolerate Tommy’s darker side a little easier, but otherwise this felt kind of undeveloped. I also wished for more from his shifter side, as that plays only a minimal role as well. We do see Poe shift a couple of times, and Tommy calls him “Birdie” a lot, but mostly it is only significant in that Poe feels a bond with his roost and a responsibility to follow orders from Ethan, the alpha. I guess I just love seeing non-traditional shifters and feel like it would have been fun to bring this element out a little more to balance with the development of Tommy’s demon side.
I did find that I really liked these guys together. Like I said, both have enough of a bad boy side that they are a good match for one another. But they also both have a caretaking side and clearly are loving and protective toward those under their care. It is fun to see how the fable and the bargains they make end up affecting their relationship, both giving them time to get to know each other, but also setting up this natural tension that comes from Tommy’s demon nature and what happens when he makes a deal. The men also have incredible heat together and there are some super intense, sexy scenes between them.
I listened to this one in audio with narrator Greg Boudreaux. As always, Boudreaux gives a smooth and polished performance. He does a nice job with the humor and snark and moves well between the playful and the serious moments. The various characters voices are nicely distinct and it is easy to tell who is speaking. I particularly enjoyed Tommy’s drawl, which fits so well with his character. My only quibble here is that Boudreaux gives Poe (or Poe’s narrative voice) a heavy accent on the world “Baltimore,” turning it into the local “Bal’more.” This is the way native city dwellers with a strong accent would pronounce it, so it’s accurate. But it became distracting to me because it is the only world to which he gives an accent (well, I may have caught a “wooter” for “water” once, but it went by too fast to be sure). Someone who pronounces Baltimore that way would likely have a local accent on other words, so the fact that it was just this one word just became really noticeable to me every time he said it. Also, no one else in the story seems to have a Baltimore accent of any kind. Like I said, I come from a family of Baltimoreans, and I am a local girl, so I am familiar with the accent (and probably have a touch of it), so this may be a thing no one else would notice or care about. But I found it a little distracting. That said, I think the audio is overall very nicely done and a great way to enjoy the book.
I found this story a lot of fun and it has so much of the charm and humor that Maslow has in many of her fantasy books. I really loved these characters and would be thrilled to see Maslow expand this world in future stories. So if you are looking for some creative world building and a story with a lot of fun, as well as heat, check out The Demon’s in the Details.