Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Growing up as a foster kid on Old Bay Isle, Zen King always knew that a) OBI is an extremely weird place and b) he’s an outsider. Few people make Zen feel welcome, but what made staying worthwhile was his foster mother Bobbie, her kids, and his best friend, Greyson Criswel. Though the two make an odd pair, with Grey a member of one of OBI’s founding families and Zen an unwanted stray, they’ve been thick as thieves since childhood. However, it’s no longer enough for Zen. Between being treated like dirt by many of the locals, overlooked for promotion to detective, and his love for Grey hindering their friendship, accepting a position with the FBI on the mainland is his only choice. Joining the FBI will allow him to use his skills and maybe become someone important, and hopefully, space from Grey will help Zen get his feelings under control and move on.

Being called to do crowd control at the library after a book is stolen isn’t too noteworthy, but when the librarian is killed in an odd accident, Zen’s unable to let it go, especially since he was there but can’t remember anything. It’s not his case, but Zen knows something fishy is going on. Besides, there’s no harm in asking a few questions, right? When flashes of memory give him a tenuous lead, Zen follows it, but ends up with more questions than answers…and six misbehaving tentacles. As a non-magical (noma), there will be consequences if the First Families Council finds out he knows about magic, so he and Grey have to stay under the radar and try to solve a mystery, while keeping his hair-trigger tentacles hidden.

Cthulhu for Christmas is part of the multi-author Tinsel and Tentacles collection and is my kind of Christmas story—no decoration wars, no people being dubbed a Grinch who needs to be fixed because they don’t celebrate Christmas exuberantly enough (or at all), and the best kind of carolers—naked and running through the streets. As per Maslow’s brand, there is plenty of magic, murder, and mischief, much of it from Zen’s sassy and handsy tentacles. Maslow is great at making her worlds come alive, and OBI is no exception. It’s full of subtle magic, clueless nomas steered by the Council, and small town over-the-top traditions and vibes that remind me of Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow.

OBI is a magically protected island that is a refuge for magical beings. Because the First Families helped create OBI’s protections and Grey’s family maintains them, they control the island. Their wealth and privilege dictates the politics and hierarchy, and magical beings are forced to deal with their rules or risk retaliation or expulsion. With the island being a haven against noma persecution, Zen being a noma and non-native solidifies his outsider status, making the family he has in Grey and Bobbie all the more important. Zen’s relationship with Bobbie is full of gruff but deep love, as neither Zen nor Bobbie like to admit to softer feelings. Whether he wants to admit it, Zen is the softie he accuses Grey of being. He takes care of Bobbie’s foster kids like family, is a sucker for animals, and gets gooey on the inside when Grey so much as smiles at him. The two play off of one another well, and you can feel their affection and devotion. Grey is a ball of sunshine, but with a sharp, angry edge when dealing with his controlling and cruel family. Grey loves his bakery, but his family detests his “little project” and keeps him in line and pressures him to conform in an unconscionable way.

The events of the story happen in less than a week and are told from Zen’s POV. The pace is pretty leisurely until the hallway point. Once Zen’s tentacles appear, he gets the history lesson/info dump he (theoretically) needs to solve the mystery, though ironically, it’s the really, physically obvious nonmagical clue he somehow overlooks that sets him on the right path. And the last few pieces he needs to solve the mystery and save the day suddenly appear. With the focus on moving the mystery along and the climatic wrap-up, there isn’t much space for the more serious and problematic issues to breathe/be addressed. However, as the story is less about the mystery and more about Zen learning the truth about OBI and his relationship with Grey, it’s not too distracting. Also, there isn’t enough comeuppance for bad actors IMO. This is especially galling as Grey’s family are the worst offenders and shown to be cruel, vindictive, and uncaring. Yet, they get to keep their standing, still try to dictate to Grey, and only treat Zen like a person and not like dirt under their heels when he becomes useful. No contrition to be found. That being said, there are consequences that will hit hard in the long run and some last minute hilarious hijinks that couldn’t happen to more deserving people.

Cthulhu for Christmas is a fun holiday capper and, if you read it, I hope it brings you comfort and joy.