Wonderstruck (Magic in Manhattan #3) by Allie Therin

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

New York, 1925

Arthur Kenzie is on a mission: to destroy the powerful supernatural relic that threatens Manhattan—and all the nonmagical minds in the world. So far his search has been fruitless. All it has done is keep him from the man he loves. But he’ll do anything to keep Rory safe and free, even if that means leaving him behind.

Psychometric Rory Brodigan knows his uncontrolled magic is a liability, but he’s determined to gain power over it. He can take care of himself—and maybe even Arthur, too, if Arthur will let him. An auction at the Paris world’s fair offers the perfect opportunity to destroy the relic, if a group of power-hungry supernaturals don’t destroy Rory and Arthur first.

As the magical world converges on Paris, Arthur and Rory have to decide who they can trust. Guessing wrong could spell destruction for their bond—and for the world as they know it.

Rating: B+

Wonderstruck is the third book in Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series of paranormal romances set in 1920s New York, and is the best of the bunch, boasting a high-stakes, fast-paced plot, engaging characters, strong worldbuilding and a central relationship that has come on leaps and bounds since the first book.

When I reviewed the previous book (Starcrossed), I said I wish I’d thought to re-read Spellbound (book one) first, as there is very little recapping and I was at a bit of a loss to start with.  Wanting to avoid the same again, I listened to the audio version of Starcrossed shortly before beginning Wonderstruck and I’m pleased I did, because I had no problems getting into the story this time around.  (Which is to say that I’d advise anyone interested in reading Wonderstruck to do a bit of backtracking first!).  As this is a series with overarching plot-threads, there will be spoilers for the other books in this review.

When Wonderstruck opens, we find Arthur Kenzie in Montreal with his close friends, paranormals Jade, a telekenetic and Zhang, who can walk on the astral plane.  They’re there searching for a way to destroy a dangerous supernatural artefact, a pomander created using the most vile magic in existence and which has the ability to enslave non-magical minds.  Arthur has been away from New York – and from his lover, powerful psychometric Rory Brodigan – for a month and is no closer to his objective than when he started – and the lack of progress and time away from the man he loves is really trying his patience.  He knows it’s best for Rory that he stays put in New York, but he misses him dreadfully.

The news that there is to be a secret paranormal exhibit at the upcoming world’s fair in Paris offers some hope, however.  Such an exhibit might well draw the attention of someone with the knowledge to help them destroy the pomander – but a trip to Paris will mean more weeks, maybe months away from New York, and bringing Rory to Europe just isn’t an option.  Baron Zeppler, the telepath who is bent on harnessing the power of magical relics for his own nefarious purposes, is now undoubtedly aware of Rory’s existence and of the power he can wield through the Tempest Ring and his psychometry – and Arthur is determined to keep Rory as far from his evil machinations as possible.

But of course, the best laid plans never pan out.  Arthur, Jade and Zhang return to New York so that Arthur can be with Rory on his twenty-first birthday, and after another failed attempt to destroy the pomander, they realise they’re going to need help.  None of them likes the idea of approaching Gwen and Ellis – the former wartime best friends of Jade and Arthur who betrayed them in Spellbound;  but after Gwen saved Rory’s life in Starcrossed, they’ve realised they have a common aim in wanting to neutralise the pomander and put Baron Zeppler out of commission.  Working on the principle that  ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ (sort of), and realising that it’s no longer safe to leave Rory in New York, the four of them – Arthur, Rory, Jade and Zhang – sail across the Atlantic and head for London.

What follows is a tense and exciting romp that kept me reading until well past my bedtime!  With Arthur hiding a terrible secret of his own, and the line between friend and enemy becoming blurred, the story moves at full pelt into the nail-biting finale, wherein our heroes are forced to battle the vilest magic of all.

Amid the thrills and spills, Arthur and Rory find time for a few tender moments, and I have to say that Ms. Therin has at last managed to convince me of their genuine attachment and absolute devotion to one another.  Previously, I found it difficult to see what a wealthy sophisticate like Arthur could see in the prickly, much younger Rory (the age gap is about eight years) who, when they first met, behaved like a complete brat towards him. Here, however, I finally bought their connection, and even though their relationship is still beset with problems of communication and trust, they feel really solid as a couple.  As in the previous books, the author doesn’t sweep aside the difficulties faced by two men attempting a romantic relationship in the 1920s, difficulties which are compounded by their vast difference in social status.  One of the major sticking points between them has always been Rory’s refusal to accept Arthur’s help or to rely on him in any way.  By now, Arthur is finding it a bit wearing, his heart heavy because he feels that Rory’s reluctance to lean on him is because Rory has always got one foot halfway out the door.  Here at last, Rory starts to realise how his attitude is hurting the man he loves;  he admitted in the last book that he would want to help Arthur were their situations reversed, but he still wasn’t able to make any concessions.  Now though, he’s grown up enough to realise it’s not weak to ask for and accept help, and I was impressed with the amount of character growth Rory exhibits in this book.

The author’s research into Prohibition Era New York is excellent, enabling her to skilfully weave the threads of her own magical world into the historical background, putting the reader squarely at a table in Jade’s speakeasy or inside Rory’s dingy room at his rat-infested boarding house.  I noted – with a smile – that she chose an International ship for the gang to travel across the Atlantic so there would be booze available!

On the downside, I did find some of the information about the relics a bit confusing, and while Zeppler is definitely eeeevil, I was never completely clear as to why he wanted to amass All the Relics and All the Magic.  World domination, I suppose, but that’s rather unoriginal!  There were a few  places it seemed there was just too much going on and too many characters on page – although I admit that might be more a ‘me’ problem than a ‘book’ problem – and a couple of plot points appeared and then disappeared, never to be seen again.

But I enjoyed Wonderstruck despite those quibbles, and was completely caught up in the story.  A compelling combination of vivid historical setting, memorable characters, fascinating magic and a heartfelt romance, It’s a fine way to end this unique series.

Starcrossed (Magic in Manhattan #2) by Allie Therin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When everything they’ve built is threatened, only their bond remains…

1925 New York

Psychometric Rory Brodigan’s life hasn’t been the same since the day he met Arthur Kenzie. Arthur’s continued quest to contain supernatural relics that pose a threat to the world has captured Rory’s imagination—and his heart. But Arthur’s upper-class upbringing still leaves Rory worried that he’ll never measure up, especially when Arthur’s aristocratic ex arrives in New York.

For Arthur, there’s only Rory. But keeping the man he’s fallen for safe is another matter altogether. When a group of ruthless paranormals throw the city into chaos, the two men’s strained relationship leaves Rory vulnerable to a monster from Arthur’s past.

With dark forces determined to tear them apart, Rory and Arthur will have to draw on every last bit of magic up their sleeves. And in the end, it’s the connection they’ve formed without magic that will be tested like never before.

Rating: B

Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series continues with book two, Starcrossed, which begins shortly after the climactic events of the previous book (Spellbound) and finds Rory and Arthur facing off against a powerful and terrifying enemy intent on forcing Rory to unlock the secrets of an incredibly dangerous relic.

Starcrossed is a direct sequel to Spellbound, and the author doesn’t spend much (if any) time recapping the events of the previous book, so it doesn’t stand alone. That’s not a complaint per se – long recaps of ‘previously on…’ can be tedious and I’m glad Ms. Therin doesn’t go there – but on the other hand, it’s been a year since I read Spellbound, and I think I might have been able to get into Starcrossed more easily than I did had I re-read it first.

After Rory single-handedly prevented the destruction of Manhattan by using the powerful relic to which he is now bound, a ring that can control the wind, Arthur took him out of the city to the Kenzie estate in upstate New York, ostensibly to let him rest but also in hopes of getting to spend a bit more time with him.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t really happened as Arthur’s family seems to have scheduled his every waking moment and his attention is almost always required elsewhere.  Rory is disappointed although not surprised.  He still finds it hard to believe that a man like Arthur – handsome, sophisticated and from a wealthy, well-connected family – could see anything in a scrawny, nameless nobody from Hell’s Kitchen, but he’s working on it.

A couple of days before they’re due to return to the city, Arthur receives news that a relic – a lodestone – is missing from the inventory of the possessions of the late Luther Mansfield (a business mogul who had traded in dangerous magical artefacts).  Arthur is eager to get back to Manhattan, but is obligated to attend his brother John’s fundraiser (John is an alderman looking to a Senate run) where he encounters Mansfield’s lawyer, who is nervous and cagey and speaks vaguely of seeing inexplicable things before clamming up and telling Arthur to forget it.  A day later, Arthur is disturbed when John tells him about a dream he’d had, of Arthur during the war in a situation Arthur has never revealed to anyone.  Someone is using magic on his brother and, as later becomes clear, on Arthur, too, when his dreams, ones he’s had since the war, take on a grotesque, nightmarish quality they’ve never had before.

Magic induced dreams, missing artefacts, a relic imbued with the worst, most vile kind of magic, and the reappearance of old enemies all combine to propel the story towards a tense, exciting climax as Rory and Arthur confront a terrifying figure from Arthur’s past – and receive help (of a sort) from a most unexpected quarter.

As in the previous book, the setting of Prohibition Era New York is evoked really well, and I enjoyed meeting Jade and Zhang again, together with Sasha and Pavel – a powerful alchemist who has become trapped in his own magic – about whom I grow increasingly curious.  The author sets up her different story threads well and draws them skilfully together, although the pacing lags a bit in the middle with the focus on the sub-plot concerning Arthur’s wartime ex, an English viscount whom Arthur’s family want him to escort around the city and accompany to a society wedding.  Rory is jealous (of course) and (inadvertently) destroys things because he’s unable to control his growing magical powers, while  Arthur is obviously very torn between his familial obligations and his desire to live his own life. He’s forever having to rush off in the middle of important plot developments because he has to be somewhere else, and although his frustration at this is palpable, it cuts down on his page time with Rory to the extent that I sometimes felt they spent more time apart than together.

I like both characters, and am pleased that while Rory has left some of his brattishness behind, he’s still a quick-tempered adorable grump who will absolutely take down anyone who threatens Arthur’s safety.  I like his straightforwardness, his determination and his vulnerability, and that he’s slowly starting to believe that Arthur really does see him as someone worth loving.  I appreciated that Ms. Therin doesn’t sweep aside the issues affecting their relationship, which aren’t simply limited to the fact that homosexuality was illegal at this time.  The class difference between them is just as insurmountable a problem;  outside their small circle of friends, Rory and Arthur need reasons to spend time together in a way that, as Arthur’s ex quite rightly points out, Arthur doesn’t need in order to spend time with a man of his own social class.

But for all of their lovely, understated declarations and passionate kisses, I don’t really get a ‘lovers’ vibe from these two.  As in the first book, it’s kissing and innuendo and then fade-to-black – and while I absolutely support an author writing their story their way, I can’t help but feel there’s something missing in Arthur and Rory’s relationship as it’s written.  Love scenes can be valuable tools to show the development of trust that comes with being sexually intimate with someone, and sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.  I’m not saying there should be pages and pages of explicit sex scenes, and I certainly don’t think an author who isn’t comfortable writing sex should be forced to do so because it’s ‘expected’.  I’ve read books where I wish the author hadn’t gone there and have felt the story would have worked just as well without.  I just don’t think that’s the case here, and that the opportunity to create a deeper connection between the characters has been missed.

The plot is complex and carefully constructed, and the big set scene at the end is vividly depicted; the writing is generally good overall, although Ms. Therin has the habit of using awkward contractions, such as Arthur’d  said his parents had it built or Harry’d given paid work to him – which look odd and unnatural on the page.

Even with the reservations I’ve expressed, Starcrossed is an entertaining read featuring likeable characters, a strongly evoked period setting and an intriguing storyline.  If you enjoyed Spellbound, then you’ll probably enjoy this, too, and like me, will be looking forward to book three, Wonderstruck, next year.

Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1) by Allie Therin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…

1925

New York

Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.

Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.

Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.

To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…

Rating: B

The synopsis for Allie Therin’s début novel  Spellbound caught my attention immediately.  Supernatural relics, powerful psychics, romance, magic and an unusual setting -1920s Manhattan – it all looked like a recipe for a great read, and for the most part, it was.  The story pulled me in right away, I was impressed by the worldbuilding, the plot is intriguing, I liked the characters, and the setting is vividly described; pretty much everything about the book works, although I had a few issues with the central romance.

Twenty-year-old Rory Brodigan is a psychometrist, possessing a unique talent that allows him to touch an object and discover its history.  More accurately, the object pulls his mind into its history and there is often a very real possibility that it may never be able to return to the present.  Feeling himself to be something of a freak – and following a scrying that went badly wrong – he’s become something of a recluse and lives with his aunt, an antiques dealer in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City.  Thanks to Rory’s talent – which they are careful to keep secret – she has built a reputation for being able to distinguish real artefacts from fake ones, which is what brings congressmen’s son Arthur  Kenzie to her shop with a rush job he’s prepared to pay handsomely for.

A veteran of WW1, Arthur is the scion of an incredibly wealthy, well-connected, New York family.  He’s handsome, well-educated, sophisticated – and lonely, taking pains to keep his relationships casual, infrequent and usually outside the US.  During his wartime service, he learned of the existence of magic courtesy of two of his closest friends – both of whom he saw die horribly – and although he doesn’t possess a scrap of magic of his own, he’s dedicated himself to protecting the world from supernatural relics that could destroy it.  He’s received word that an extremely dangerous and powerful artefact is on its way to New York, possibly into the hands of a fearsome enemy; and with it due to arrive any day, he’s racing against time to find someone with the necessary talent to be able to help him and his small band of allies to find it.  Having heard of someone in Hell’s Kitchen who has been uncannily accurate in discerning the provenance of various items, he prepares a test – a set of skilfully forged letters that he says he needs authenticated straight away – and takes them to Mrs. Brodigan’s shop.

When – unimpressed – she meets with Arthur the next morning to give him the news – all the letters are fakes – he explains he wasn’t wasting her time, but was instead assessing her suitability for another, much bigger job.  He gives her a case containing a relic packed inside a secure, lead-lined box, a ring that has defeated his associates’ attempts to assess its power or purpose  – but before he can explain, he’s called away, and leaves her with instructions not to open the box until he arrives at the shop so they can discuss it further.   It’s this relic – a ring that can control the wind – that ultimately reveals the truth to Arthur and brings him and Rory together.  Unable to resist taking a look inside the case – wondering what the rich arsehole who brought them a bunch of fake letters could possibly want this time – Rory opens the ring box, touches the relic, and is immediately pulled into a vision from which he very nearly doesn’t make it back.  Livid, he telephones Arthur Kenzie to tell him where he can stick his ring, and Arthur, realising the ring box has been opened, rushes to the shop to find out what’s going on.  Realising eventually that Rory is the psychometric, Arthur and his closest friends and allies – Jade, a telekinetic and Zhang, an astral walker – band together to protect him and his unique gift from those who would abuse it.

Rory, however, doesn’t want anything to do with them.  He’s rude and abrasive and mistrustful; life has taught him that’s the only way to stay safe, and when we learn more of his past, it makes perfect sense that he would be slow to trust – and fortunately for him, Arthur and his friends aren’t going to give up on him that easily.  He pushes them away – or tries to – at almost every opportunity, even as his attraction to the handsome and urbane Arthur grows stronger.

The story is well conceived and well executed, and the author does a fabulous job of integrating the prohibition era setting and the details of her secret magical world into it.  I enjoyed learning about the existence of relics and their power, of the use of magic for good and evil and of the prejudices facing supernatural beings in the society in which they live.  The main secondary characters are easily as interesting as the leads; Arthur’s principal allies Jade and Zhang are well-developed characters whose presence is integral to the suspense plot.  The first part of the book was a five-star read, easily, and I flew through it, eagerly immersing myself in the world Ms. Therin has created.  But somehow, the second half of the book didn’t quite live up to the first.  The plot – in which Arthur faces a devastating betrayal at the same time as he, Rory, and their allies must race to save Manhattan from spectacular destruction – is tense and exciting, but the villains were somewhat underdeveloped.  I also had a problem with the romance, because try as I might, I found it difficult to see what the gorgeous, sophisticated and world-weary Arthur saw in Rory who, while only eight years younger than him (Arthur is twenty-eight) often acts more like someone in his mid-teens than a young man of twenty.  I understood Rory’s prickly nature – his backstory is heartbreaking – and I understood Arthur’s natural instinct to protect; they do have chemistry, but Rory’s brattish behaviour goes on too long, and when he does eventually drop it, the couple goes from zero-to-sixty in the blink of an eye.  This is a series, so there was no real need for things to progress quite so quickly – and the book’s single sex scene is all build-up and then fades to black, which is a missed opportunity for relationship development.  When done properly, intimate scenes are an excellent way of showing the connection between characters, something which was sorely needed here given Rory’s trust issues and the way he treats Arthur for the first part of the book.

Despite those reservations however, Spellbound was an impressive début and a truly enjoyable read.  I liked the found-family quality of Arthur’s relationships with Jade and Zhang, and Rory’s with Mrs. Brodigan (who turns out to be a bit of a badass in her own right!), and the diversity of the cast, which felt right for the location and time period, was another big plus.  The book ends with a firm HFN for Arthur and Rory, and a clear indication that there’s more to come, so I’ll definitely be picking up book two when it comes out next year.