Will Buchanan was let down first by his family, who kicked him out for being gay, then by the man who was supposed to love him. So aside from his best friend, Blue, Will has learned not to count on anyone. He and Blue were homeless together and became like brothers to one another. But now Blue has a partner of his own and is settling down. While Will enjoys his life working at a bookshop in York, as well as the group of friends he shares with Blue, he can’t help but feel on the fringe of things. Will is pretty sure no one would really miss him if he was gone and feels like maybe it’s time for him to move on and find his own way.
Jem Dawson is a photographer who has traveled the world for years. Jem loves the adventure and the constant moving around and seeing new places and has no desire to settle down. But after having to give up a job when he got injured, Jem has spent most of the last year working with a ghost hunting group as they check out local haunted locations. He met Will through Blue and is totally hot for the gentle giant, and Will appears to share the attraction, but the guys haven’t quite moved to the next step.
When Jem’s ghost hunting crew signs up to check out a house that is supposedly haunted by a poltergeist, Jem suggests Will come along to be their official “sceptic,” raising questions on behalf of the viewers. Of course, Will is best friends with a guy who can see ghosts, so he isn’t exactly a non-believer, but Jem is eager for the chance to spend some time with Will. And Will reluctantly agrees, if only so he can help keep an eye on Jem, as they both know how these things can quickly go wrong.
The house itself turns out to be even more terrifying and dangerous than they could imagine. Something is dark and threatening and not at all happy to have the crew in the house. But Will and Jem are determined to stick it out, if only for the family who wants their home back safe again. Escaping the vengeful spirits will not be easy, but even if they can make it out alive, they still have to find a way to fit their lives together. With Jem’s life meant for travel, and Will struggling to trust that anyone really wants to keep him around, the men will have to work to find a way for a future together.
The Sceptic is the first story in Lily Morton’s new Arcana Books series and is a spin-off of her Black and Blue series. We have met both men before, Will as Blue’s best friend and Jem as the cameraman in The Quiet House. This story picks up a bit after that book in the timeline, with the Viscount now owning the occult bookshop next door to Tom’s shop and Will working for him. So this series gives us a chance to pick back up into this world, but shifts the focus to different main characters. I think you could read this without having read the first series, but obviously your enjoyment will be heightened by being familiar with those characters. I do think Morton does a nice job here bringing Blue into the story without letting him steal the show. He is such a fabulous character and he could easily grab the limelight here, particularly as he clearly knows more about all the ghost stuff than anyone else. We do see Blue and Levi here and they play a nice side role, but I appreciated that Jem and Will are the stars and take the lead in resolving the story conflict.
If you are a fan of scary ghost stories, the books in these two series are high on the thrills. I wouldn’t call them full on horror, but there are definitely some terrifying things going on, mixed with a lot of spookiness. Here Will and Jem join a group of ghost hunters who are investigating a house with a rumored poltergeist. A well-known ghost hunting society already checked it out and think it is all a hoax, so they have abandoned the investigation. So the group Jem has been filming for steps in to see what they can find. The group leader, Ben, is desperate for membership into the elite society and figures this is his ticket in if he can find anything. So the family is heading out while Jem, Will, and the others spend three days in the house. Like I said, there are plenty of thrills, from the mundane spooky to the truly terrifying. So there is a fun sense of fright going on here, plus a chance for Will and Jem to spend time together and grow their bond as they go through this ordeal. I did find it hard to understand just why they stuck it out when at points they seem in real danger. But I do think Morton does a good job laying the groundwork for why they feel an obligation to stay at the house, even when things get dangerous. If you enjoy some thrills and ghost hunting horrors, I think you are going to enjoy this one.
Overlaid across the investigation is the growing relationship between the men. The attraction has been simmering between them for a while, so it makes sense that they are able to build their relationship even in the midst of all the craziness going on. Will has been burned badly in the past, both by his parents kicking him out and his boyfriend treating him like trash. He loves their group of friends, but can’t help but feel like he is on the fringe and not really needed. Even Blue, he closest friend, has found a partner and is settling down, and Will assumes no one really cares if he is around anymore. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth, but there is a sweet vulnerability to Will that really comes through. And Jem is like a rock for him, supportive and loving and determined to show Will that he deserves the best. There is a sweet playfulness to their dynamic, plus just this lovely sense of support and comfort. The guys have to figure out how to mesh their plans for the future with one another, but it all comes together nicely and we get a tear jerking ending, as well as a great epilogue that takes the guys into the future to see how things play out. I really just loved Will and Jem together and found them a great couple.
So this was a fun first installment in the new spin-off series and I am really excited about it. I love all the characters Morton has built into this world and we see the circle grow a bit larger here. I am looking forward to more to come.