Rating: 4.75 stars
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Sebastian de Leon spent the last three years under blood magic mind control. During the time he was under the thrall, Sebastian committed numerous atrocities for which he can never forgive himself. It doesn’t matter to Sebastian that he was forced to do these things, he will never stop regretting them or seeing himself as the villain. While it has been months since Sebastian’s mind was set free, he still suffers from haunting nightmares about the experience.
When Sebastian’s friends, Jade and Zhang, tell him about a series of murders that appear to be perpetrated by a magical practitioner, the three realize they must do whatever they can to stop it. They also realize the killer’s next likely target is Wesley, Viscount Fine, a war veteran and mostly grumpy and jaded man who has no idea that the magical world exists. Sebastian and the others are determined to protect Wesley, but getting him to trust them is not easy without revealing their magic — particularly as Wesley once encountered Sebastian while he was under mind control and so believes him to be dangerous.
It takes some time for Wesley to trust Sebastian, but once he learns the truth about what happened to him, Wesley is sympathetic and understanding. Yet even as he knows the truth about magic and Sebastian’s past, they are still facing a killer who is ruthless in his quest for power. While Sebastian just wants to keep Wesley safe, Wesley is determined to help in whatever way he can. Now, Sebastian and Wesley, along with Jade and Zhang, must stop a supernatural killer before he is able to gather enough power to destroy anyone in his path.
Proper Scoundrels is a delightful spin-off of Allie Therin’s incredible Magic in Manhattan series. It takes place some months after the events of the original trilogy and focuses on Sebastian and Wesley. We met both characters in the main series, with Wesley being Arthur’s ex and Sebastian one of the paranormals under the Puppeteer’s control. While series side characters Jade and Zhang play a big role in this book, Rory and Arthur do not appear here. Although the blurb describes this as a standalone, and it is in the sense that is not part of the main trilogy, I really think you need to be familiar with the Magic in Manhattan books to fully enjoy this one. There are so many callbacks to the trilogy, both in terms of past events, as well as the characters, I don’t think new readers are going to have an easy time following along with a lot of the details without it. I also think that while the backstory is explained, you need to have experienced the blood magic and the menace of the Puppeteer’s control to really understand what Sebastian went through and the residual guilt he faces.
I really loved the Magic in Manhattan series and was thrilled Therin brought so much of that same flavor to these books. I think series fans are going to love this story and be easily swept back into this world once again. There are some clear callbacks to past events, particularly with regard to Sebastian’s mind control, as well as the larger world building and characters. But we get a new mystery with its own excitement and drama here and I found it very engaging. We know there is a killer who is essentially sucking the life essence out of his victims. We also know who it is fairly early on, but catching him is a whole other story. There are also some interesting connections here to Sebastian’s past and family history, as well as to some of Wesley’s experiences, so the mystery ties nicely to both men. It was fun to bring in Wesley to this world as someone totally unfamiliar with the existence of magic and see it all through his eyes. While the mystery and suspense side of this one isn’t as encompassing as the main series books, that is to be expected given this is a single volume. But it still connects nicely with the larger world building and is an exciting and fun adventure.
For me, the real star of the show here is Wesley and Sebastian and their relationship. I truly just adored them together and this is completely my kind of couple. Therin does a wonderful job with the character development and really letting us get to know these men with a lot of depth. Sebastian is essentially too good for this world as a man who has been through hell and still retained such an inherent kindness. He should be bitter and jaded, but all he wants is to help and care for people and is willing to sacrifice himself to protect others. Wesley, on the other hand, is gruff and jaded and pretty much hates everyone. He has been through war and has lost his patience for social niceties. Yet he is charmed completely by Sebastian and soft for him almost right away. This is a total case of the grumpy one is soft for the sunshiney one and I am all here for it. There is also a fun sense of humor here, as Wesley likes Sebastian almost despite himself and you can feel him sort of rolling his eyes at himself for being so charmed. I also loved that Wesley has this moment of self awareness as he realizes that he has always seen himself as so tough and brave and sort of above needing to be friendly or care about what people think. But he realizes that hating everyone and everything is easy. Being someone like Sebastian, who has been through hell and back and still retained that utter goodness, is what is difficult. It gives Wesley a new perspective and opens him up to not only Sebastian’s love, but the friendship and connection with others as well.
As I said, I loved this one so much and found Sebastian and Wesley completely endearing together. I so enjoyed that Therin brought us back into this world and gave us some closure for two side characters, as well as another magical adventure.