Homeless and jobless, Fenn Todd has nearly run out of hope. All he has left is his longing for horses and the strength of his own two hands. But when he’s cheated into accepting a very ugly sackcloth horse, he’s catapulted into a world of magic, politics and desire.
Fenn’s invited to stay at the black tower, home of the most terrifying man in the realm: Morgrim, the court sorcerer. Morgrim has a reputation as a scheming villain, but he seems surprisingly charming—and sexy—and Fenn falls hard for him.
However, nothing is as it seems and everyone at the tower is lying about something. Beset by evil hexes, violent political intrigue and a horse that eats eiderdowns, Fenn must make the hardest choices of his life.
Can a plain man like Fenn ever find true love with a scheming sorcerer?
Lee Welch’s original and inventive fantasy romance Salt Magic, Skin Magic was one of my favourite books of 2018. Like most of those who read it, I was excited to read the work of such a gifted new author, and I’ve been eager for more of it ever since. In Seducing the Sorcerer, Ms. Welch once again combines a slow-burn romance with mystery and political intrigue, strong world-building and an interesting magic system, to create something altogether fresh and innovative.
Forty-six-year-old Fenn Todd is down on his luck and barely managing to keep body and soul together. After losing everything that really mattered to him more than twenty years earlier, he’s had neither home nor job since and ekes out a meagre living travelling around, doing casual work and odd jobs whenever and wherever he can get them.
When the book opens, he’s just woken up hungover and hungry, but he’s got no food or money left, so he’s going to have to find work if he wants to eat. After some time spent trudging through bone-dry fields, he arrives at Rolling Hills Farm, where the farmer offers him a meal and some coin in return for digging a new cesspit. But when the farmer leaves, a younger man – the farmer’s nephew – offers Fenn a horse instead of the money. Fenn can’t quell he hope and longing he feels, even as he knows he’s being had, knows if something seems too good to be true it usually is, but… a horse of his own? Even an old, broken down one he’ll likely have to take to the knacker’s yard… even if he only gets to care for it for a short while? In spite of his misgivings, Fenn agrees to the deal.
After a good meal and a hard day’s work, Fenn goes to receive his payment – hoping against hope that the offer of a horse wasn’t a cruel trick… and can’t help the rush of disappointment that swamps him when he’s presented with an “ugly, horse-shaped scarecrow” made of a bundle of old sacks, with “a tail like a tube and a raw edge of fringe stuck up for a mane.” Feeling as angry with himself for hoping as with the farmer’s nephew for tricking him, Fenn refuses to show his humiliation, hoists the bundle of rags onto his shoulders and carries it away with the sound of the laughter of the lads at the farm ringing in his ears. If nothing else, he reasons, the wad of sacking will at least provide something softer than the ground to bed down on that night.
He’s just dropping off, thinking about how he’d have cared for a real horse – how he’d have rubbed it down, given it a good scratch, found it something to eat – when he feels something moving underneath him. At first he thinks it’s the ground shaking, but then he realises the sacking horse is moving, filling out and getting to its feet, a bright blue rune shining on its chest. It’s inelegant, wall-eyed, gormless and hoofless… but it’s definitely a horse. Of sorts.
When the magical horse won’t go away, and won’t let him leave it behind, Fenn reluctantly decides to try riding it. And suddenly, for the first time in more than twenty years, Fenn feels like himself again – happy, free and never more at home than when on the back of a horse. The ridiculous creature moves well and handles brilliantly, but when they take a fence, they don’t land and instead, Fenn is taken higher and higher up into the air until he’s flying. Exhilarated and terrified all at once, Fenn decides this must be what heaven feels like… although when he realises the horse isn’t responding to his commands to land, he wonders how much longer he’ll be able to hold on. At last, the horse begins to descend, landing in a courtyard between a looming tower and a gatehouse with battlements and a portcullis. Fenn tries to urge the horse back up into the air, but it’s having none of it – and then the doors of the tower burst open to reveal the figure of a man wearing a long black robe, a tall hat and carrying a staff standing at the top of the steps. Fenn knows at once who it is. Morgrim the ruthless, scheming and power-hungry Court Sorcerer who has stolen all the clouds, caused a never-ending drought – and who is planning to kidnap and marry the Queen.
This is just the beginning of what opens out to become a truly charming and enchanting love story between two very different men, neither of them in the first flush of youth, neither of them exactly what they seem. Fenn knows Morgrim’s reputation, but refuses to be cowed by him and his fierce dark eyes and intimidating manner. He’s certainly wary, but it isn’t long before Fenn starts to realise that the Morgrim he’s spending time with and getting to know is a very different man to the one he’s reputed to be, and to see that he’s struggling under the weight of a huge burden. Morgrim is secretive and devious but he’s also charming, occasionally and endearingly awkward, and someone who very obviously feels the weight of his responsibility to those around him very keenly. He’s also gorgeous, which Fenn hadn’t expected – and nor had he expected the intense attraction he feels to be mutual.
Seducing the Sorcerer is about so much more than seduction. It’s a gentle, beautiful courtship really, a story of two misfits who find love and acceptance in each other, who for the first time in their lives feel really seen, and are comfortable enough with one another to allow themselves to be vulnerable in a way they’ve been with no one else. And it’s a romance in which the little things are the things that count; Fenn insists he isn’t romantic because he can’t write poetry or sing love songs, but the things he does do – fixing shelves and other things around the castle, bringing Morgrim a kitten – mean a lot to Morgrim, who has never had anyone truly care for him before.
“- because if you looked after things in a bloke’s house, that was a bit like looking after him, wasn’t it?”
The story is, of necessity, told entirely through Fenn’s eyes, but the author does such an excellent job of peeling away the layers behind the veneer of the formidable sorcerer that I never felt the lack of Morgrim’s PoV. The romance is superbly developed, and a strong, deeply emotional connection grows between the two men as they spend their days together riding in the enchanted field, sharing their life stories, and talking about anything and everything, They have fantastic sexual chemistry as well; there’s a D/s vibe to their physical relationship which is perfectly in character, with Fenn’s willingness to take control being exactly what Morgrim needs, and a strong focus on the way they make each other feel.
There’s a small, but well-drawn secondary cast including the spirited and wily Queen Aramella, Jasper, a young servant at the castle, and the magical worple horse, Squab, who may not have any lines, but who nonetheless plays essential role in the story.
Seducing the Sorcerer is a wonderful read and is quite unlike anything else I’ve read this year so far. Funny and sweet, poignant and sensual, featuring a well-crafted plot, superbly drawn characters with very real problems and an utterly captivating romance, I loved it from start to finish and it’s going straight onto my keeper shelf.