Story Rating: 5 stars
Audio Rating: 5 stars
Narrator: Gary Furlong
Length: 11 hours, 5 minutes
When Spencer was eight years old, he met Fatima, who became his psychopomp. Not only did she become his best friend, she saved his life. Because Spencer, even at eight years old, had magic too close to necromancy for the government’s comfort. Without Fatima, Spencer would have been put down, killed, so that he didn’t become a future problem. With her, he became property of the government, a mage who — with Fatima’s help — can guide the souls of the dead to rest. He can break the chains of possession, and is one of the few mages capable of taking on a demon.
During the Battle of Manhattan, Spencer met master vampire, Takoma, while fighting off a Marquis of hell, armies of the undead, the Dominion Sect, and demons. The men fought side by side in that exhausting, soul-crushing battle and … Spencer may or may not have gotten himself a small little crush on the vampire. Just a tiny one. Barely there, even!
When tasked to find a missing magical mirror in Seattle, Spencer happens to run into Takoma again and — in order to stay undercover, sidles up to the vampire and claims to be one of his human servants, rather than the Supernatural Operations Agency agent he really is. Fortunately, Takoma not only catches on quickly, but takes the unspoken invitation with both hands … and all of his teeth.
It’s fake dating, giant hickeys, and Fatima letting Spencer know in no uncertain terms that he has terrible taste in men. There are demons, shifters, vampires, and wandering spirits. And Wade, the dragon, the real star of the show, who also thinks Spencer has terrible taste in men. It doesn’t matter, though. Spencer has no intention of passing up a chance at the master vampire.
Spencer has always known how fragile the thread is that keeps him alive. No matter how hard he works, how well he does his job, it would only take one small mistake to end everything. The various world governments have put restrictions on necromancy — as in, there will be none. So for Spencer, whose magic is just close enough to count, it’s been a lifetime of oversight. Of being watched, judged, forced to report everything, give away every part of his life. Most people don’t want to be friends with a potential necromancer, either because they’re scared of him and his magic, or scared of possible contamination, or splash back when he finally turns evil. Fatima has been his only, dearest and most constant friend for almost his entire life, and the relationship between them is beautiful.
She’s not really an animal, though she appears as an ocelot. While she loves bacon and pastry and riding shotgun in the car — especially if it has heated seats — she’s a spirit who brings lost souls back to the plane they come from. She’s invisible unless she wants to be seen, and can only be heard by Spencer. And the moment where she tells him he can let go, he trusts her, falling blindly into her love.
Takoma, on the other hand, feels more possessive than loving. Spencer is a fragile ball of sunlight caught in his palms, something breakable, something helpless. Takoma has lived through the colonization of North America, has seen his people murdered, their land stolen, the promises made to them broken again and again. He has a strong sense of right and wrong, of what is owed, and of responsibility. He’s a vicious, arrogant, and domineering asshole who owns property right up against the witch coven’s houses … all so he can have his people sit and watch, and the witches unable to do anything about it. He knows how to use the law, even if it’s not as fun as using brute strength.
Takoma knows what Spencer is, knows how his government treats him, and promises him that he will free him and protect him if ever Spencer wants it. All he has to do is ask. Takoma will even be polite enough not to demand anything from him in exchange. (Though, with the way Spencer’s throwing himself at Takoma, he doesn’t have to ask.) Spencer trusts him, which is flattering. Spencer flirts with him. Spencer’s psychopomp gives him the passcode to Spencer’s phone. Takoma isn’t blind, and far from unwilling.
And then, you know, all the plot. The mirror, the demons, the witches, and the fight scenes … all of which are done with Hailey Turner’s usual deft skill. But really, the lightly comedic flirting and courtship scenes are the best part of this book. It isn’t so much the banter as it is the way Spencer dithers, wanting to give in and yet afraid to. Takoma is offering him freedom and protection, but Spencer is so afraid of breaking the law, of doing anything to make people angry at him. When Takoma gets angry, Spencer folds, desperately trying to find a balance between what he needs to do, and what Takoma wants him to do … and it’s sweet to see Takoma see that fear, that fragility, and also give in, allowing what he wouldn’t otherwise allow because Spencer needs it.
Oh, and Wade’s here, too. His version of the shovel talk is sweet, especially since it’s … well, it’s Wade. Oh, he means it, and in this book we get to see him as the dangerous young dragon he is thanks to Patrick and Jono’s love and protection. As always with this Soulbound universe, the world building is top notch, the plot is well focused, and the pace is lively, moving from flirting to fight scenes gracefully and without a loss of momentum or character.
Of course, as with the main Soulbound series, the audiobook is narrated by Gary Furlong. I have no idea how he can do that “I’m possessed by a demon” voice and not hurt himself. And it’s quite a trick to be a possessed witch, or a possessed werewolf, or even a possessed vampire and still keep the voice of the character. He’s an amazing narrator and does his usual excellent work, here. If you’re a fan of the Soulbound series, this spin-off story is a wonderful addition to the world.