Hal Hawthorne is a police inspector in Kensington where, at 34, he is both still unmarried and one of the best, if not the best, inspector the force has. He brings his unswerving focus to his work, not resting until the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice, no matter how respectable they may or may not be. This case, however, looks to be the most challenging … and may be the first one Hal can’t solve. It involves a woman, left splayed out in the snow with her chest carved open, and yet nothing is missing but her life.
Hal must also navigate his new partner (Hal hates partners), Donoghue, who refuses to work after hours when he’s not being paid, is squeamish at the sight of blood, and brings pastries to the crime scene. And then there’s November, a frail, elegant man with shining blue eyes who makes Hal’s blood burn and his heart beat faster. The young man is a sex worker — not yet 25 — and reminds Hal of what he wants, and cannot have.
The young murder victim, Helena Dunham, worked at the Indian Palace as a sex worker (as does November). There are claims she was, of all things, a witch. Hal would like to scoff, to push it off as a fit of madness or whimsy … until he’s bound with ropes of water and flung into a world that doesn’t exist, can’t exist, and yet does! Vampires and wizards, people born with two hearts, and statues that move. Demons and phoenixes, pixies and boggarts, and somewhere among them is the man who cut open a young woman and, while she was still alive, cut out her heart.
Hal has to find him and, while doing so, keep himself from losing his own heart to November.
The world building in this book is a chaotic mix of creatures and monsters, mayhem and mysticism, and it’s just … fun. In this world, there is a random chance that the child of two Ordinaries (non-magical people) might be born with a second heart. It’s this second heart that not only allows them to tap into their magic, it also grants them a much longer life and a quicker healing ability. It’s that heart that was taken from the young woman killed in the snow. Even though some people have magic at their command, they can’t just magic up money; being strange and unusual, standing out from the crowd, they’re very often cast out from their homes and end up on the streets, which is where Ms. Cobb, the Indian Place proprietor, found both Helena and November.
November didn’t want to be a sex worker, but the weather was turning cold and he had nowhere else to go. Ms. Cobb gave him food, a bed, and promised him money. He thought he could just work for a week or two, do what he had to and get enough money to get on. Weeks turned to months, to years, and it’s harder to get out of a situation when you’re both comfortable and safe. It’s dangerous for a sodomite to be out and about in London. It isn’t until Helena’s death when November meets Hal that he starts wanting something more.
Hal wants to find Helena’s killer as much as November does, wants justice for her death no matter how she earned her living. Hal is upright, stiff, and graceless, but with the heart of a paladin. He treats November like he’s a person, not a pet. He’s skittish around the young man, staring at him one moment, avoiding his eyes the next, and yet refusing to let November out of his sight. Hal is gay, a secret held over his head by his Captain, ashamed of what he is and yet he’s falling ever deeper in love with November.
The romance is very much a slow burn, with the main focus of the book on the murder mystery and magical world, while Hal tries very hard not to think about why he can’t let November go, protesting that the killer wants November as his next victim and so, of course, it’s up to Hal to protect him. That’s the only reason the two of them share a room. His new partner, a serial romantic who goes from woman to woman, can see the sparks between them and has his own opinion on it, because he can see November falling for Hal, and can see Hal’s hot and cold fear and want are both giving mixed messages and hope to the young man.
Neither Donoghue nor Hal have any judgement when it comes to November’s line of work. They don’t refer to him as anything but November and there’s neither pity nor questions regarding the hows and whys of his work. Even other characters trying to get Hal to rid himself of November talk more about how being gay will affect Hal’s career, not about November’s work bringing shame. The side characters are all fairly strong and the plot is well laid out. Personally, I think the plot did drag in a few places, but not so much that it affected my enjoyment of the book.
So, why is the rating so low on a book I did very much enjoy? The editorial errors, and there were quite a few of them: gnarled instead of snarled, calve instead of calf, pang instead of bang, dwon instead of down. And that’s just a few of them. There were also sentences that stood out for awkward writing or use of the wrong words. Some examples:
“You can’t just buy a wand, Hal. You find it wand in just the right moment when you are ready.”
It looked like something a somewhat child would paint.
“Brown can do that when he this if I am unfit for duty.”
The writing is stilted, sometimes clumsy in parts, with odd phrasings and repetitions. However, there are some parts of this book that just shine with atmosphere and storytelling. Hal’s first venture into the magical world is wonderfully Lovecraftian. Donoghue and Hal’s slow friendship — as slow of a burn as Hal and November’s romance — is very well done. This book is the first of a trilogy and ends on quite a cliffhanger.
I wanted to give this book a higher rating, but in good conscience couldn’t, and ended up dropping a whole point due to the many copy and editorial issues. Hopefully in future editions the malapropisms and typos will be corrected.