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REVIEW: Malum Discordiae by Ashlyn Drewek

Tennebrose: Malum Discordiae – Ashlyn Drewek

After Cassius Corbin’s mother was murdered by fellow witches, he learned an invaluable lesson: death comes for us all—even Necromancers. Six years later, enrolling at Tennebrose University with vengeance on his mind, the last thing he expects is to come face to face with Graeme Hewitt, the son of his mother’s killer. As much as Cassius tries to avoid the naive weather witch, fate has other plans.

In spite of their families’ ongoing feud, they’re forced to work together if they have any hope of passing their required class. But as late nights and stolen moments turn to something more, a rash of demonic murders plagues the university. If they don’t get to the bottom of it, they could both be next.
MALUM DISCORDIAE is a dark academia, paranormal MM romance about witches, Necromancers, and a blood feud that has lasted centuries. It features plenty of steam, a lot of snark, and the pile of bodies you’d expect in a magical Romeo + Juliet retelling—except this one has a happy ending. It is intended for a mature audience and reader discretion is advised. A full list of triggers can be found in the front matter of the book and at my website under Tropes & Triggers.

If there’s one MF romance writer whose shift to MM made me so happy, it’s Ashlyn Drewek. She blew me away with the devastating Stockholm Syndrome romance, The Solnyshko Duet, and I also loved her Beauty and the Beast retelling, Wither. Her stories are typically dark and come with a chockful of trigger warnings.

Malum Discordiae is the opener of the dark academia paranormal series Tennebrose. This is a Romeo and Juliet retelling but with witches and magic revolving around the secretly magical Tennebrose University. The town and the school are a mix of unaware humans, certain people in the know, and old witch families.

The story centers around the centuries-old feud between the Corbins and the Hewitts. The Hewitts are nature witches, considered the good ones. The Corbins are necromancers, mostly shunned and reviled because of their dark magic. The rest of the old families fall between light, dark, and neutral.

Cassius Corbin and Graeme Hewitt considered themselves sworn enemies, until they were forced by their botany professor and plant witch, Ainsworth, to work together on the semester’s project to grow the mythical poison apple tree. It was one tumultuous getting-to-know-you scene after another, where they cycle through hate, lust, generations-old biases, and grudging clarifications.

Hands down, our boy to die for here is Cassius! Sporting gothic villain good looks, he’s snarky and standoffish, with a big heart hurt too often. A necromancer and a blood witch, his spells frequently involved disturbing methods (skulls on display, tasting blood, talking to ghosts), and he knows full well the stigma against dark witches of his kind.

Still, Cash went out on a limb for Graeme several times, trying to help him open his eyes. He explained what necromancy really is and why the spells are like that, aware that the cost is revealing family secrets that could easily be used against the Corbins and other necromancers.

Graeme is why I didn’t give this book 5-stars. Touted as the next deacon of their witch congregation, he’s a powerful weather witch but spectacularly ignorant of his legacy and magic. Seriously, this witch didn’t even know what his family herald looks like. I could forgive this part because he can learn that in Tennebrose.

But Graeme would listen to Cash explain something, then quick as a flash, turn against Cash because of age-old bigotry compounded by his ignorance. He broke Cash’s trust, and I’m not even sure he made up for the hurts.

It might sound contradictory, but I do love Graeme and Cash together. Their chemistry is off the charts! The hatesex was sizzling! The push/pull was exciting!

When Graeme wasn’t being an idiot, you can tell he’s crazy about the snarky necromancer. Usually brass and self-assured, he lets Cash see his vulnerable side. He does acknowledge his lack of training and genuinely tried to learn from Cash, so yeah, not so bad. His magic is supercool, too!

The supporting cast was great, many of them memorable. Aside from the botany professor Ainsworth, the Corbins, dad Caius and sister, Claudia, surprised Graeme. Meanwhile his parents, Maryann and George, had some secrets of their own. The congregation is lead by the deacon and the selectmen, who arbitrate and record events. The rest of Cash’s and Graeme’s relatives and friends stand in for the Capulets’ and Montagues’ allies.

Flawed characters aside, the plot hooked me in immediately and kept me riveted for hours. It would have been a one-sitter if not for the need to sleep. It’s a spectacular retelling, with enough familiar elements and not too on the nose. It’s filled with just the right amount of details to establish the setting and the magic system without resorting to info-dumps.

There’s also several murders, demons lurking, lost grimoires, and centuries of family history to unpack. And with the lovely gothic vibe that speaks to my grim self, this is a well-conceived fictional world I’d love to be in!

Malum Discordiae is a Shakespearean tale full of heartbreak, revelations, family woes, and a pair of star-crossed lovers who dealt with life and death. All in all, a dark witchy delight!

4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

Soundtrack: Tethered to the Dark
Artist: Anya Marina

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