Widdershins Book Review

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Continuing with my m/m romance streak, I decided to give the Whyborne & Griffin series a shot based on the recommendation of a fandom friend. Widdershins is quite the genre blender – an m/m historical fantasy/horror novel set in late Victorian New England. It stars Percival Endicott Whyborne, a reclusive scholar, and Griffin Flaherty, an ex-Pinkerton detective who now works as a private investigator.

The two meet when Griffin asks Whyborne, a comparative philologist, for his help in deciphering a coded book sent to his client by the client’s son, shortly before the son was brutally murdered. Whyborne soon realizes that it’s a book of spells… and that the spells work! From there, the two are drawn into a terrifying world of secret societies and dark sorcery.

To be honest, I dislike secret society plots as a rule, so I was skeptical about how much I’d like the book before reading it, but I did end up really enjoying it. Jordan Hawk did a great job building up the dark and creepy atmosphere of Whyborne’s hometown of Widdershins, MA, to the point that the setting is like a separate character, and the Lovecraftian monsters and eldritch abominations were grotesque and genuinely frightening. As a certified wimp, I’m a little surprised one scene in particular hasn’t given me nightmares.

The characterization was also really well done, especially Whyborne. In addition to being shy and reclusive, the man also has a severe case of social anxiety and very low self esteem. I wonder if his interior monologue might be a little annoying for someone who doesn’t suffer from either condition, but speaking as someone with a (thankfully milder) case of both: yes, that is exactly what social anxiety sounds like internally. I wanted to give the poor man a hug and a copy of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (which really helped me with mine) but unfortunately neither I nor the book are going to exist for another hundred years or so.

The romance was a nice slow burn. I didn’t think the UST was as delicious as it was in my favorite m/m romances to date – The Captive Prince and Think of England – but I liked Whyborne and Griffin as a couple quite a lot and the sex scenes were well-written and hot.

Also, major kudos for an awesome female character: Dr. Christine Putnam, a female archaeologist and Whyborne’s co-worker and friend. Her interactions with Whyborne, Griffin, and the sexist Bradley were always entertaining and she’s a great character in her own right as well. I kind of want an Amelia Peabody crossover with her.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Edit: I have now finished the rest of the series as well, and enjoyed all of them. They continue to feature the same gift for creepy atmospherics and great characterization. It has also been pleasant to see Whyborne’s relationship with Griffin and growing magical abilities slowly build his confidence and reduce his anxiety. I definitely recommend this series. The rest of the books are:

  • Threshold (book 2) – Whyborne, Griffin, and Christine investigate a coal mine in West Virginia that has been plagued by mysterious disappearances and other strange events
  • Stormhaven (book 3) – One of Whyborne’s co-workers is arrested for the murder of his uncle, a murder he has no memory of committing. I was worried about how much I’d like this one, because it’s got ANOTHER secret society, plus prophetic dreams, a trope I like even less than secret societies. But while it wasn’t my favorite of the series, I did enjoy it. It’s also got a kraken in it, and it’s hard to go wrong with krakens. 🙂
  • Necropolis (book 4) – An urgent plea for help from Christine sends Whyborne and Griffin to Egypt. This book made me want an Amelia Peabody crossover even more.
  • Bloodline (book 5) – Whyborne’s sister comes home from England for a visit, and is promptly murdered. Lots of interesting new information about Whyborne’s family here – I look forward to seeing how it affects future books.

Book 6 will be entitled Hoarfrost, and is due to be released sometime in 2015. The series also includes several short stories, including Eidolon.

One Indulgence Book Review

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I’m on a bit of a roll with m/m romance this week, aren’t I? One Indulgence, by Lydia Gastrell, is the first pure romance, with no fantasy, mystery, etc. elements. It’s essentially a classic Regency romance, except with two men instead of a man and a woman.

The plot revolves around Henry Cortland, the new Earl of Brenleigh, who is determined to fulfill his duty to marry and produce an heir, but first wants – just once – to experience his long-suppressed and forbidden desire to spend a night with a man. A one night stand with a stranger goes better than he could ever have dreamed, and he’s all set to live off the memories forever, but the stranger, Lord Richard Avery, isn’t quite so willing to let him go. Richard is tired of casual relationships and wants a deeper connection. With Henry, he’s convinced he’s found it, but first he has to convince Henry.

The book opens with a VERY hot scene, and I can kind of understand the complaints of some reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads when Henry and Richard then proceed to barely touch for most of the next ~200 pages. However, I thought it was realistic, given Henry’s situation and personality, and anyway, you don’t read Regency romance of any persuasion expecting characters to be constantly hopping in and out of bed with each other.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and since it seems to be a planned series, there are several side characters I’m hoping to see more of, particularly Richard’s Aunt Margarette and Samuel Shaw. I guessed the twist with Shaw before it was revealed, and it was very sad to compare Richard’s opinion of the adult Shaw with Henry’s memories of the boy, so I hope he’ll be able to find more closure (an apology from Henry would be a good start) and reclaim some of his boyhood kindness in future books.

One minor and mostly irrelevant complaint: the guys on the cover look NOTHING like I pictured either Richard or Henry and it’s actually distracting me as I write this review. Henry’s blond curls and beautiful blue eyes are frequently mentioned in the book, and I see neither curls nor baby blues on either of those men. Why do so many covers seem to be designed by people who’ve never read the book?

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

The Magpie Lord Book Review


I enjoyed Think of England so much I went right back to Amazon and bought The Magpie Lord, the first in KJ Charles’s Charm of Magpies series. The Magpie Lord is m/m fantasy romance, set in an AU Victorianish England where witches and warlocks are real (though some prefer to be called “practitioners.”) I enjoyed the novel, but not as much as Think of England.

The story involves a wealthy British earl – Lucien Vaudrey, Lord Crane – who was shipped off to China by his horrendous father and older brother as a teenager, where he fell in with smugglers and traders and generally lived an extremely un-lord-like existence. Reluctantly returning to England with his loyal manservant after his father and older brother’s deaths, he nearly becomes the victim of magical murder, and hires a scruffy practitioner named Stephen Day to help him stay alive and find out who’s trying to kill him, and why.

The worldbuilding was pretty interesting, the creepy old manor house was near-palpable and a character in its own right, and there was plenty of tension, action, and mystery in the plotting to keep me turning the pages. I think I read the whole thing in under three hours. I also thought Lucien and Stephen themselves  were well-drawn.

However, the romance seemed almost perfunctory by comparison, and lacked emotional depth. It felt more like, “Oh, here we are, two gay guys thrown together by circumstances. Are we physically attracted to each other? Yes? Great! Let’s fuck.” Which is a perfectly plausible and legitimate progression, but not what I was looking for. Whereas Think of England made a scene as simple as asking for a spare collar stud incredibly sexy and dripping with UST, in The Magpie Lord our more experienced Lucien seems to think that foreplay consists of repeatedly telling the object of one’s lust that you’re going to fuck them. This might have worked well if the relationship were more dom-sub in other regards, but it really wasn’t, and the object of lust in question kept trying to squirm out if it so he could do his job, which didn’t exactly create the same sort of anticipation or UST.

All in all, I would recommend this book more for fans of historical fantasy than m/m romance.

My rating: (3 / 5)

Think of England Book Review


I’ve read quite a bit of slashy fanfiction, but not so much m/m original fiction, so since I’m in a little bit of a fandom drought right now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try some more gay romance novels, since I enjoyed The Captive Prince so much. I settled on Think of England, by KJ Charles, as my next m/m read thanks to its great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and the blurb, which caught my interest with its promise of a Gosford Park-esque house party in Edwardian England and some mystery/thriller elements.

The mystery/thriller elements turned out to be much stronger than the Edwardian house party elements (this isn’t a bad thing – I’d have been happy with either predominating), and some of the characters make that randy old war profiteer Sir William McCordle look practically saintly by comparison. Our intrepid heroes land themselves in a mess of blackmail, treason, torture, and murder within hours of arriving for their outwardly genteel house party and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat to see how they’d unravel it.

Coincidentally enough, the intrepid heroes in question actually reminded me a lot of The Captive Prince‘s Damen and Laurent, despite the completely different setting and plot. You have Archie Curtis, the sturdy, straightforward war hero a la Damen, and Daniel da Silva, the sharp tongued, damaged schemer a la Laurent. In this case, however, our war hero is wounded, not enslaved, and our schemer is a gay Portuguese Jew rather than a prince, which is hard luck on all three accounts in 1904 England! The set-up is very “opposites attract,” which truthfully is not my favorite trope, but it ends up working well in both The Captive Prince and Think of England. (It helps in both cases, I think, that the men find out they’re not as opposite as initial appearances might suggest.) For Curtis, as an old fashioned “stiff upper lip” type British military man, Daniel da Silva (a poet, on top of everything else) was definitely a case of hate at first sight, but I thought KJ Charles did a great job of showing his gradual change in feelings from dislike and distrust to growing respect and ultimately love. Daniel remains a bit more of a cipher, but a bunch of reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads seem to think Think of England is the first in a series, and if so, I’ll look forward to learning more about him in future installments. (Edit: KJ Charles has confirmed that she is working on a sequel.)

Luckily for us readers, Daniel is less damaged (and in different ways) than Laurent, so we get a bunch of steamy sex scenes in this novel, instead of having to wait for most of another book. (Not that I mind a good slow burn, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for. Especially when the sequel hasn’t been published yet!) Curtis’s gradual realization that he was, in fact, one of “those types” was well-paced and made for a lot of great anticipatory buildup as he realized the extent of what he really wanted to do to (and with) Daniel.

I thought the secondary characters were also well drawn, and ended up especially liking Fenella Carruth and Patricia Merton. One of my frequent complaints about slash fanfiction is that it gets so caught up in the boys that it neglects the female characters entirely, or worse, commits character assassination in order to split up a canonical m/f romance in favor of a fan-favored m/m one. Without giving too much away, neither issue happened with this book at all. In fact, I think Fen and Pat would make great characters for a spinoff story or series, whether official or fanfiction.

My rating: (4 / 5)