Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Gary Furlong
Length: 8 hours 54 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Caspian Drake, Earl of Brus, had cultivated a charming playboy, ne’er do well image, and is known for causing trouble, especially with his best friend, the prince of the dragons, Brandr. But when tragedy strikes and the court is attacked, Cas is called on to assume a role in the Order of the Blue Dahlias. The Dahlias are so elite and secret that no one actually believes they exist. Cas’ new role has put in him in the prime position to investigate the attack and find out who is behind it, which he embraces whole-heartedly. Cas wants nothing more than to find the culprits.

Saphir Vepkhia is the former captain of the king’s guard, but has retired to raise his sister, and was given the honor of the title Baron Archer. Saphir doesn’t care for the court politics and has no interest in navigating it, but he will do whatever is best for his sister. So when the king calls him to town and directs him to take part in the upcoming season, Saphir reluctantly agrees.

The last thing either Saphir or Cas expect is for them to be matched during the opening gala of the season. Matches are put together by the Lionesses, a group of well respected women, and are expected to spend the season courting and attending events together. For Cas’ part, playing the role he’s so good at isn’t exactly a hardship, but his attraction to Saphir is inconvenient at best, and interferes with his investigation. Saphir is doing his own investigating, but now has the added pressure of keeping Cas safe. Cas’ identity as a Dahlia is a closely guarded secret he can’t share.

As the two men thaw toward one another, and then things begin to heat up, they realize they are working toward the same goal. But with obstacles still in the way, and secrets between them, the realness of their feelings may never come to light. To make matters even worse, the killer is still on the loose and attacks again. With lives on the line, it will take everything both men have to make it out alive.

Notorious is the first book in the Shifter Scoundrel series and showcases both Blake and Cochet’s talents when it comes to world creation. While it is a contemporary world, the Dragon King has modeled their hidden society after the Regency era, so it’s an interesting mix of mostly historical feeling, with contemporary conveniences thrown in. I thought the authors struck a nice balance between the two, though it does lean more heavily on the historical side of things. Because of the mix, there are certain liberties taken that you might not see in a true historical. I think this makes it slightly more accessible to readers who may shy away from historicals on the whole. Added into all of this, of course, is magic and shifters, which Blake and Cochet write well. I found it to be a richly built world without going too over the top with explanations.

I really enjoyed both the MCs. Cas is a heavily layered character who has a certain face he presents to the world, but that is only part of his personality. On the surface, he doesn’t seem like he cares much about anything, but he is deeply loyal, incredibly smart, and viciously determined. I enjoyed the complexity of the character and watching as he came into his own. In juxtaposition, Saphir is a bit grumpy and has very little understanding of the court and the way it works. Nor does he have the patience for the frivolity. But at his core, he holds the same values as Cas, and is just as loyal, determined, and big hearted. The two men definitely butt heads at the start, but it’s mostly because the lack of communication. For Cas’ part, he can’t be fully honest with Saphir. But it also takes Saphir some time to see beyond the mask that Cas wears. On the romance side of things, these two really worked. The chemistry between them sparked from the start and only grew the more time they spent together.

In addition to the romance storyline, there is the murder and mystery aspect driving the book. I thought the authors did a fairly decent job of balancing the two plots and interweaving them together. For me though, the pacing was a bit off in some regards, where I felt like we spend too long on one part or the other before going back. In addition, there were some time jumps that while necessary for the story, left interactions between the MCs out. For example, we were told that Cas and Saphir spent time together during an intervening period, but as we didn’t see it or their interactions, it felt a little like that was missing. There’s a lot going on, and while part of the mystery is resolved at the end, many more questions are revealed than answered. While it does set things up nicely for the series to continue, it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed by the resolutions we did get.

Gary Furlong narrates the audio, and he does an outstanding job. His performance is spot on, his characters are well done and easily recognizable, and the emotion behind the scenes comes through well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed this book slightly more listening to it than I think I would have had I simply read it. Furlong really performs this story, and while I always find his narration easy and pleasant to listen to, it’s the extra he gives that really takes this story to the next level for me. This one is an easy recommendation in audio and I can’t wait to listen to the next book in the series.

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