Tom is a copper, a decent one who doesn’t take bribes and keeps his neighbourhood safe. He’s hiding a past of violence and betrayal, something he walked away from for everyone’s safety. Cicero is a familiar, a shapeshifter, who works with the local magical police for protection, but hasn’t yet agreed to bond with a witch. They’re thrown together to solve two murders — which stir up horrifying echoes for both of them, of pasts they’ve tried to put behind them — and at first it seems like they’re oil and water. Cicero constantly makes assumptions about Tom based on his job and appearance, but slowly, of course, sparks start to fly.
There is of course a wrenching part of the romance (as so often) where the secrets Tom is keeping come back to haunt him, leaving Cicero feeling lied to and abandoned. Obviously there were so many opportunities to do better and to communicate with Cicero — but at least it seems to make sense that he doesn’t. He doesn’t realise his past is relevant to the case, and he’s committed to a better future, one with Cicero in it; the smart thing would be to ‘fess up, of course, but… that’s difficult, and didn’t seem important. It makes sense.
A lot of people mention not loving this book as much as the Widdershins books, but I disagree. That’s partly down to my pet peeves: Whyborne’s obsessive lack of self-esteem over the course of several books drives me nuts, and the lack of communication between him and Griffin comes back again and again and again. For that reason, this clicked better for me (which is not to say that I find nothing to enjoy in the Widdershins books).
There are some gruesome bits of this story, just as a warning. There’s also some period typical homophobia, though not amongst the main characters or anyone who matters. I’m looking forward to glimpsing Cicero and Tom in the stories of the others…
Mild, naive Sam comes from a repressive family in the country. Hardened, hermit-like Alistair is hiding away from life after being very badly hurt by his time as a soldier and its aftermath. They’re brought together because Sam’s cousin — who took him in when he fled his family — has been murdered, and Sam needs help in navigating the gangs and other dangers of Prohibition Chicago.
Plus, Alistair is a familiar, a shapeshifter, and he’s realised that Sam is his witch, the one person in the world whose magic best works with Alistair’s — but he has his own reasons for refusing to bond.
Sam is a lovely character, well-meaning and brave, despite the emotional damage from his family who belittled him constantly. He’s naive, but not as judgemental as he could be: he accepts the Gattis and what they do, even as he steers his own path (not drinking, for example, and not being terribly willing to work with a gang boss). He seems a dangerous big cat shifter and thinks, “Hey, can I pet him?”
He’s the ideal person to bring Alistair back out of his shell, and we see that happening in and amongst the actual action of the book. The pace of their relationship worked quite well for me, and it was really sweet… though I’m sure they have a ways to go to a proper happy ending.
I haven’t actually read the other books in this world, but that was okay; this worked well for me as an introduction, it was very clear what the basics were. I’m sure there’s more to understand in the other books — and I’m eager to read those too — but it works perfectly well on its own.
Guardian Spirits wraps up the plot arc from the first two books beautifully, answering questions from both books and bringing our protagonists to a good place in the process. Of course, given the context, it involves dragging them through a bad place first — though this is primarily due to the outside circumstances, rather than the relationship between them. After finally communicating with each other in the second book, Henry and Vincent are ready to be supportive of each other, and to face pressure without crumbling.
We get a couple of new characters, including a love interest for Lizzie, which is cool. I find myself longing for more of Jo, though!
While I figured things out before the characters did, their blindnesses made sense and didn’t feel frustrating… and like Jordan L. Hawk often has characters communicating badly, with crises leaning on misunderstandings, that was much less the case here. (It’s a pet dislike of mine.) So that was nice too.
Overall, enjoyable end to a trilogy, or a stepping-off point for a longer series. I don’t know if Hawk is planning to write more or not, but if not, I’m okay with that.
Unfortunately for me, Dangerous Spirits features one of my least favourite tropes: the spur of the moment lie that brings all communication into a logjam and eventually splits people apart. I joke about being the relationship advice Dalek (COMM-UN-I-CATE! COMM-UN-I-CATE!) but really, it’s important, and while it’s often interesting to watch how characters and relationships break under the pressure of a lack of communication… it’s difficult for me to read.
That said, I still enjoyed many other things about this book: Henry does take some lessons to heart and grows up a little (in the end), Jo’s still amazing, Lizzie’s still amazing, and we learn more about Lizzie and Vincent’s lives, and see the arc of the trilogy bending along…
It sets things up for a better relationship in the next book, and for the third book to wrap up some of the mysteries and fears that surround the group.
Dangerous to Know really disappointed me: I picked it up and was finding it really enjoyable, having given the Lady Emily series a bit of a break. However, part of why I love the series is Emily’s independence and free thinking, and Colin’s efforts to stifle her feel out of character in their suddenness (he’s been protective before, several times, but not in the sense of flat-out saying “I’m your husband now and you’ll do as I say”).
It was nice to meet Colin’s mother (who wouldn’t approve at all of what he’s doing, I’ll add), and to have Cécile around for much of the story, and I was happy for the return of Sebastian Capet, of course. The cast and mystery remained pretty much what I would expect… it’s just Colin who was disappointing.
I’m giving him one more book to behave himself, since I own the next book, but if he really hasn’t learned his lesson, then I’m moving on from this series. I’m not looking for realism here, at least not to that extent.
The Bone Way is a sweet novella, which is basically a Sapphic Orpheus and Eurydice story: Teagan has been poisoned by a creature belonging to the Shadow Princess, a sort of underworld figure. Her wife Cress is determined to find her a cure by travelling the Bone Way to reach the Shadow Princess and make a deal with her. They originally plan to set out together, but Teagan has doubts, fearing that Cress will lose her life for nothing if the deal doesn’t work or they don’t make it to the end… so Cress sets out alone, and Teagan has to follow.
It’s a short book, and slips by quickly; there are a few flashbacks to help build the picture of their relationship and what they do, and which help provide a little worldbuilding, and then there’s the description of Teagan’s journey. It reads so fast that I didn’t quite get the passage of time out of it; the time limit on their return to their normal world felt easy (three days), although the journey did actually take them almost all of that.
The story is sweet and fairytale-like; it’s not a thick satisfying novel that fleshes out the whole world, but a glimpse of a couple’s story within that world. Behind it lurks a story I was perhaps a little more interested in: the story of the Shadow Princess and why she turned to dark magic, why she brought all her people with her, and exactly how those people live and what they feel about it. I’m especially curious about the little girl who helps Teagan, because she seemed more switched on and alive, and it felt like there was a story there as well…
The love between Cress and Teagan comes across as strong, but also realistic: they screw things up, they get angry with each other, they have mismatched priorities. The whole thing ends well and sweetly, and despite the Shadow Princess’ dire pronouncements (which say more about her untold story than anything), you get the feeling that Cress and Teagan can figure things out, together.
Subtle Blood brings an end to the adventures of Will Darling and Kim Secretan — at least for the reader, though it’s fairly clear they’re going to go off and get into trouble together again, as soon as possible. It beautifully resolves much of their issues with Zodiac, and features Kim being much more open, less willing to lie (at least to Will), and totally committed to the future he’s realised he can have. It’s adorable and satisfying, as adorable as anything can be when it involves this pair.
It was pretty much everything I wanted from the finale of this series, and everything I wanted for these characters. What more can I say?
Don’t forget to read the coda free on Charles’ website — particularly if you know who Daniel da Silva is. (If you don’t, hie thee to a purveyor of books and grab Think of England first.)
The Missing Page is a lot of fun. As it opens, Leo’s away doing work (still spycraft) and James has been invited to the reading of a will which grants him a small bequest. The will itself turns out to be a surprise: the person who manages to solve an old, old mystery (the disappearance of the daughter of the house) will become the owner of the family home. Those who assemble are people who were present that summer, a time when James was 12 years old.
Leo hears about this setup and thinks instantly of heirs poisoning each other, so he drives up as soon as he gets home to join James and help him unravel the mystery. Unlike many second books, this doesn’t have any walking-back of the relationship in the first book — there are no sudden stumbling blocks, they communicate with each other, they become closer still without first pushing each other away or having any miscommunications. They’re still negotiating their relationship, stepping carefully to avoid setting off any mines, but they’re committed and good to each other and trusting of each other, and it’s lovely.
As for the mystery, I admit, I didn’t expect the actual solution. That was a pretty good moment.
Even better, though, was Leo and James getting away from there at the end and going back to their lives together in Wychcomb St Mary. That’s their real family and home, and it’s lovely to watch Leo accept that.
I liked Witchmark more on a reread than I did originally, I think, though at the time of writing this review I can’t access my previous review. At the time, I definitely wasn’t super eager to continue the series… though that might be partly the same reason as I’m reluctant now, that I know the second book focuses on Grace, and I think she’s despicable. Perhaps it’ll be a good redemption arc, given the start she makes at the end of the book, but her multiple betrayals of Miles — and her pathetic excuses for doing so — I’ll find it pretty difficult to forgive her.
Tristan and Miles’ relationship is cute, but for me it suffered for me reading A Marvellous Light at the same time: Edwin and Robin from that book have a more difficult bond which is built up a bit more. It felt like Witchmark has three plots: Tristan and Miles’ relationship, Miles’ investigation into what’s wrong with the returning soldiers, and Miles’ relationship with his family… and the latter two are the best handled, leaving Tristan and Miles a little short-changed. I don’t think it’d have taken much more for me to be all on board, but it felt like there was a crucial scene or two missing — but there weren’t any gaps when such a thing could’ve even happened.
There are some cool side characters like Robin, and I understand that the third book features her as a main character… so that should be interesting, assuming I can stomach Stormsong. Either way, I did enjoy revisiting this and giving it another chance.
The problem I have with Will and Kim is that I want to scream at them to communicate properly, but the fact that they have difficulty with that is relevant to the plot, and thus you can’t be too mad at them because it totally makes sense… but also, stop hurting each other for stupid reasons (mostly looking at you, Kim) and figure yourselves out.
It seems like the end of this book puts them in a place where that’s somewhat more possible, which I’m glad about — and the ride to get there is one hell of a thing. I can’t talk about it too much: just as Kim can’t tell Will much at all without revealing way too much, I think to say too much here would spoil the plot a little.
The climax of the book is pretty hair-raising and dramatic (in a way that works perfectly). It leaves me wondering where they’ll go next… and eager to find out. I wonder what fresh complications they’ll manage to throw in each others’ way, how they’ll cope with Zodiac now, and whether Phoebe and Maisie will be part of it (and what part they’ll play, exactly).
I didn’t spot the cameo until I saw a review mentioning it, which just proves it’s been too long since I read some of Charles’ books. Clearly I’ll have to fix that with some rereading.