18. Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch (Audio, m/m, historical PNR/Fantasy) Great mystery, suspense & twist. Really loved the tension between Blake & Lord Thornsby, their mutual mistrust/attraction. Intriguing magical worldbuilding. #bkbrk https://t.co/avsbyMAZ12— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) March 9, 2019
Lord Thornby’s debauched and provocative London life came to an abrupt end when his father seemingly incensed at his latest outrageous stunt drags him back to the family estate. Once there Soren discovers he can’t leave, not because he would be disowned or cut off but because he literally can’t, his father able to mysteriously compel him to stay in the ever-shrinking debt ridden estate. He is close to despair when his step-mother returns from home with an unexpected and mysterious guest.
John Blake is a materials magician, working magic through inanimate objects, listening to the whispering of the walls and the chattering of chairs. He feels decidedly out of his element in the rural ramshackle manor, but a good friend has asked him to investigate who is magically harassing, his sister, the new Lady Dalton. At first he is convinced the eccentrically dressed and oddly-behaved Lord Thornby is responsible, until he sees through Soren’s cutting and dismissive words and witnesses his torment. Together they must uncover what kind of magic is at work, and secrets are key to Lord’s Dalton’s hold over Soren.
I really enjoyed listening to this book. I loved the twisty Gothic/paranormal elements on what at first seems like traditional historical romance premise. Thornby’s shock & horror at realizing he is trapped and his suspicion that he can’t simply free himself by agreeing to marry an heiress like his father demands, unless he can figure out why his father, a previously cruel but non-magical person has managed it. I am also a sucker for bad first impressions and John and Soren start out as suspicious of each other as they are attracted. The tension over whether they can trust or believe each other is delicious, because they each have very good reasons to distrust each other.
Welch did a fabulous job teasing out the mystery and complicating the picture for everyone involved. She also created some fantastically engaging secondary characters to populate the curse household, including the adventurous and sharp-witted Lady Amelia. I particularly enjoyed seeing Lady Dalton’s opinion about what is happening, and of her husband change throughout the novel. Her desire to retain her dignity and regain some power in their relationship felt very real. Of all the characters in the book, I would l really love to read some more about her as she needs a HEA of her own.
The worldbuilding was fascinating, especially because it incorporated class differences and prejudice into its development. Set in the rapidly industrializing Victorian era, John’s material’s based magic is in its ascendancy, but he is hampered by the disdain of his demon-wielding theogist teachers, whose center of power, Politics and religion are losing ground to Industry but whose wrong-headed opinions still hold sway in academic settings. I loved that Blake comes to realize that his fellow magicians have lost a great deal of knowledge about more rural folk magics that leave him unprepared to deal with what he experiences at the estate.
I listened to ending in one fell swoop because I need to know how the story would be resolved and while I was fully satisfied with John and Soren’s HEA, I wish we could have had some sort of epilogue that gave some sense who everyone else on the estate, responded, recovered and moved on.
I had not previously listened to any books narrated by Joel Leslie but he did a wonderful job differentiating the voices of the characters, capably capturing desperation, desire, urgency, archness and tenderness.
Content Warnings: Homophobia, incarceration, kidnapping/abduction, mention/description of past trauma (physical, emotional and sexual abuse).
I received a review copy of Salt Magic, Skin Magic from the author, Lee Welch.