John Blake, a wizard, is asked by a colleague to help his cousin Lady Dalton. Strange things are happening in her home: items turn up she has never seen, and animals act strangely. Nobody has hurt her, but she worries that things will get worse. And she suspects Thornby, her stepson.
When Blake meets him, he is tempted to agree. Thornby is an arrogant ass with a string of strange habits and – as Blake soon discovers – unsettling powers. But when confronted, Thornby claims he is innocent and actually a victim. Sinister magic has stopped him from leaving his father’s estate for over a year. After a dramatic demonstration, Blake believes him that means somebody else has to be behind the attacks on Thornby and Lady Dalton. But who? And what is their goal?
The book drew me in already on the first page; Thornby is trying to leave the estate and failing. There is no physical force stopping him, there is something messing with his mind. As soon as he approaches the boundaries he becomes convinced that there are urgent matters on the estate he has to deal with. Once he has returned he realises how unimportant the issue actually is. The writing is tense and emotional and even though I barely knew Thornby at this point, I already felt for him and hoped he could get out of this situation as soon as possible.
Sadly, before the first chapter was over, I had also started to roll my eyes a lot. When Thornby and Blake meet for the first time, Blake suspects Thornby of using dark magic while Thornby is very suspicious of Blake’s reasons for turning up. They don’t trust each other, and they don’t hide that fact. But that doesn’t stop them from thinking about how hot the other is. Now, I don’t object to that. You can’t help who you find attractive after all, but this book does take it to ridiculous extremes. In the first few chapters, the thoughts of both characters are a constant “He’s an ass and probably evil but he’s also so hot. He’s acted horribly and might have really sinister motives but he’s so hot. Last night I masturbated thinking about him.” (No joke. Thornby really does that). After they discover that they are on the same side they remain unsure if the other is into men (and specifically into them) so it turns into “Oh he is so hot, but he probably doesn’t want me.”
But after the short slump, things picked up again. Once Thornby and Blake discover that the attraction is mutual (and act on it), the moping stops. And once the plot really picked up I was sold. The magical mystery came with lots of surprising twists kept me guessing throughout. I was also really fond of the magical system Welch came up with. It always makes me happy when fantasy authors go beyond ‘wand + magic word = magic’ and in this book she came up with something new and intriguing (with fun side-effects).
The romance itself also got much better once it got beyond the first few chapters. With the magical problems escalating quickly there isn’t too much time for them to worry about anything that isn’t their impending doom, but the author still manages to give the romance-plot weight. Both worry that they come from so different worlds that even if they survive their relationship won’t last. Blake comes from a working-class family which already made him an outsider in the posh world of the magical university and he doubts a Lord would have a lasting interest in him. Thornby, meanwhile, worries that Blake only considers him and his problem a curious challenge and will return to his own magical world in which Thornby would just feel lost.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book to people who love historical fantasy and don’t mind a fair amount of angst and drama (because there is lots of both). The beginning had weak parts but the rest of the book more than makes up for that.
You will probably enjoy this if you liked: KJ Charles’ The Magpie Lord