Now that Silas Mercer has fully accepted his new duties as ankou, or servant of death, for the Order of the Golden Dawn, he must also get accustomed to the equipage–namely a magical horse named Lalassu. Unfortunately, whatever skills Silas may have possessed prior to his being reincarnated as an ankou are just as lost as all his memories of that previous life. Therefore, the man must learn horsemanship the hard way. Yet under the patient tutelage of a Valkyrie named Sybilla, Silas at least learns to stay upon his mount. Though more often than not, Silas finds he can and must rely on the horse’s innate or perhaps preternatural ability to know where to go and how to get there. Just when Silas is getting comfortable with being ahorseback and appreciating Sybilla’s civilized company, the Order sends him on a new mission. As before, Tobias “Pitch” Astaroth will accompany him, ostensibly as a guardian, as they venture to a castle deep in a dying wood to discover what has become of the Verderer who is supposed to guard the grounds.
Despite often being at odds, Silas has come to enjoy Pitch’s usually impertinent, often bawdy companionship. Even if the attractively foppish man does his level best to put Silas out of sorts. En route to the Verderer’s forest, Silas and Pitch rest at a small village. In fact, one of Pitch’s many lovers resides in the town and makes it clear he longs for his company. For Silas, it seems a simple matter to indulge a former lover, but for reasons Pitch refuses to share, he is reluctant to spend any more time with his old flame. Yet Pitch can only resist so much temptation and before long, he’s falling into bed with the man. And he does so in exactly such a manner that there is no doubt that Silas catches both an earful and an eyeful of the athletic intimacies in which Pitch and his lover engage. The vignette rouses terribly confusing emotions in Silas, but they must be put aside for the task at hand–finding out why the Verderer is not protecting his forest, but rather strangling it to death. As before, Silas must find a way to vanquish the Verderer, who is now a seemingly all-powerful teratism. He must also rely on Pitch more than once, but Silas discovers the man has developed a seemingly penchant for putting himself in harm’s way. It will take all of Silas’ courage and strength to ensure both he and Pitch survive the wrath of the Verderer.
The Verderer is D.K. Girl’s second installment in her Pitch & Sickle series. It picks up pretty much immediately where the first book ends–with our two MCs basically convalescing after battling a teratism. The pacing of the action; the interaction between the calm, measured Silas and the irascible, audacious Pitch; and the tantalizing puzzle pieces of both MCs’ pasts had me whipping through pages. This last element was definitely the biggest excitement for me. In book one, all the smolder comes from Pitch’s end of things, but it’s clearly fraught with teasing (sometimes in good fun, sometimes to be cruel). Only at the very end was there a flash of something potentially more. All that is shifted to the back burner by the start of this book, firmly putting the two characters back into their roles as unlikely partners fulfilling a magical calling (sending the corrupted dead on their way).
The exchanges between Silas and Pitch fairly left me panting to know more about both of their pasts and hoping something therein would bring them together like super magnets. But for now, I was tremendously satisfied with the sense that Silas is developing a deeper personal connection and attachment to Pitch, warts and all. Plus, I feel like some major groundwork got laid in setting these two up as potential lovers in the future when Silas has something of a sexual awakening upon seeing Pitch–tempered, of course, by Silas’ confusion at being so roused by a man. Again, if slow burns are your thing, I think The Verderer makes great use of the tension that was built up in book one and lets it really bloom.
As far as the plot goes, I feel like this book is organized into distinct sections. First, there’s the time Silas, Pitch, and Sybilla spend together while Silas both recuperates and learns to ride Lalassu. Next is the journey to the Verderer’s forest, notable for Silas catching Pitch in flagrante delicto with a former lover and the various feelings that rouses in Silas that I feel gets capped with Pitch ending up in danger and Silas’ kind heart saving Pitch from himself. Finally, there is the confrontation with the Verderer, which highlights in part how powerful Pitch is and how much Silas still has to learn.
The horsemanship part felt a bit slow, though I think it does offer some insight into how lay people view the Order. This feels especially true because the town where Silas is training is well removed from London, where he first learned of his new life as ankou. The suspicious townsfolk did raise the question about what exactly the Order does, beyond helping Silas with his role as ankou. I have taken it for granted that the Order of the Golden Dawn is a force of good, largely because I see Silas as such an earnest character who is doing his best. But the opening of this book reminded me that, like Silas, I am not clear on what the Order’s goals are. My next favorite part was the battle with the Verderer, if only because there’s a bit more concrete information provided about Pitch’s past. But my favorite was probably Silas and Pitch journeying to the ill-fated forest. Between Silas catching an eyeful and later refusing to let Pitch try to sacrifice himself to some nasty sprite-like creatures, I felt like my romance-loving self was finally indulged a bit…even if any real romance is still pretty between the lines at this point.
Overall, I feel like Girl did an amazing job following up on the mood established in the first book. I loved seeing this established “couple” reinforce their individual qualities while still showing new or deeper facets to themselves. Silas grows more confident while still being humble and a bit insecure. Pitch opens up a little more to Silas, but is still incapable of cutting the man much slack. There is another near-miss in the will-they-won’t-they department at the end, a very intimate scene with just the two of them…all of which just heightened my interest in seeing what will transpire between them in future installments. If you enjoyed the first book, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the second installment.