Magic & Steam: The Gangster – C.S. Poe
1881—Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.
The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.
This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.
The novel-length follow-up to The Engineer, in the exciting new steampunk series, Magic & Steam.
The Gangster is, hands down, C.S. Poe‘s best work to date. I was so blown away by this book! How is this not a movie already??!!
For me, the Magic & Steam series is very cinematic. Not just story-wise, it would also look really gorgeous on screen. The world-building is a steampunk dream! For the first book, The Engineer, it was a clockwork version of the Wild West, complete with dashing outlaws and their aether-powered guns and evil geniuses with fantastically rigged out battle tanks.
For The Gangster, the author reimagined 1881 New York into a magically-run city where instead of subways trains, we get a Grand Central Depot that is a sixteen-story terminal for airships. I can see this as a breath-taking panoramic shot when Gillian goes there to meet Gunner.
It’s not just the technology and the setting. The atmosphere was electric, the people felt real. The writing took me to an alt-Victorian New York that lives and breathes.
This is a world where magic users undergo mandatory regulation documentation. The Federal Bureau of Magic & Steam oversees the usage of magic. There are three kinds of people in the magic community. There are scholars who study magic, architects who fabricated the spells and casters, like Gillian, who perform them. Magic created by machines is illegal because it goes against the natural order, hence, it is extremely unpredictable and volatile.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Gillian eagerly awaits Gunner’s arrival to make good on their promise to ring in the New Year together. Earlier that evening, the federal agent was hot on the tail of a gangster who was using illegal magic. This gave him the name of a mysterious new player in the scene, Tick-Tock, who was stirring up trouble in the Five Points. There is no rest for our poor caster because as soon as Gunnar arrives, things went boom!
And so off they go to uncover Tick-Tock’s identity and his evil agenda, crossing paths with bullying co-workers, mechanical men, machine-made magic and grotesque abominations.
If I thought Gillian was already using high-level magic before, well, he just went nuclear. The fight scenes were beyond AWESOME!!! This part alone was enough to earn the book 5 stars. Add to that a gripping case that kept me glued and two fascinating characters that were so damn perfect for each other.
I first thought, Gunner was a mystery. We still don’t know much about him. But turns out, Gillian was the bigger puzzle to solve. He’s a bit unreliable as a narrator. We constantly learn more things about him as we go along. Everything is told from Gillian’s first person POV. You can really feel his emotions jumping off the page and boy, did I feel for the guy.
Our boy tends to be too hard on himself. He is a lonely man who oh so badly craves love but thinks himself unworthy because sees himself a monster. He is spectacularly unaware of his own appeal, bemoans his chibi stature and has absolutely no gaydar whatsoever. I thought he was a pushover but this well-spoken little man has quite a temper. When Gillian unleashes his fury, he’s one magnificent, scary motherfucker!
I also naively thought him a bad liar but holy heck, he was actually lying through his teeth all this time! All in the name of survival. Because our dear Special Agent Gillian Hamilton has some very dark secrets. I love him!!!
Gunner The Deadly is his complete opposite. He is exactly what Gillian wants. And what he wants to be. The outlaw makes no apologies about who he is. He never lies. Tall, handsome, confident, perceptive and virtually unflappable, his calm automatically shatters the moment Gillian is in danger. I loved how he gently taught the younger man about intimacy and affection. I loved how he sees Gillian, really see him. It’s through the outlaw’s uncannily sharp observations that we get glimpses of how things really are. It is through these that the troubled agent is forced to be honest with himself.
The two men are constantly out and about so the quiet moments are rare and precious. Gillian cherished them like the treasures they are as his connection with Gunner grew deeper. These scenes are so pure!
I cleared my throat. “There’s something to be said for a well-built man.” I looked up at Gunner again. He was staring at me. “You’ve been eyed up and down no fewer than half a dozen times since we entered.”
He nodded a fraction, like he was already quite aware.
“And the man behind me at the bar intends to bring a beer to you.”
Gunner’s gaze flicked in that direction but didn’t linger. “You’re quite observant when the attention isn’t focused on you.”
Sweat prickled under my arms. I shrugged, trying to appear casual, but I’m sure I looked, if anything, manic. “Perhaps… territorial, is more correct.”
That made the corners of Gunner’s eyes crinkle. “It’s rather too fish-in-a-barrel for me. I enjoy making eye contact with a man across a tavern. Getting that swell in your gut, like the ground has fallen out from under you.”
I tried to swallow, but my throat was parched—dry like animal bones bleaching in the desert sun. “Like you’ve been pinned to the wall.”
Gunner took one step closer to me. “And you realize you share a tendency.”
“Now you’ve got to put it into words.”
Another step. “When it’s right, you don’t need words.”
The Gangster took off at a running start. Quite literally too. It never let down the pace until the very end, where it dropped one hell of a cliffhanger. The events took place only a couple of days but even with things going fast, all the various plotlines were brilliantly executed. Everything came together beautifully. It went all out with the action, the suspense, the mystery, the imagery and the magic while delivering a wonderful romance that is as tender as it is spine-tingling. THIS is exactly how you cast a spell on a reader!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to buy your copy of Magic & Steam books. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.
You can also use my Bookshop affiliate links to buy paperbacks and MP3 CD audiobooks and help support independent bookstores.
Cronin’s Key – N.R. Walker
NYPD Detective Alec MacAidan has always been good with weird. After all, his life has been a string of the unexplainable. But when an injured man gives him cryptic clues, then turns to dust in front of him, Alec’s view on weird is changed forever.
Cronin, a vampire Elder, has spent the last thousand years waiting for Alec. He’d been told his fated one would be a man wielding a shield, but he didn’t expect him to be human, and he certainly didn’t expect that shield to be a police badge.
Both men, strong-willed and stubborn, are still learning how to cope with the push and pull of being fated, when fate throws them another curveball.
Rumors have spread quickly of turmoil in Egypt. Covens are fleeing with news of a vampire who has a talent like no other, hell-bent on unleashing the wrath of Death.
Alec and Cronin are thrown into a world of weird Alec cannot imagine. What he learned in school of ancient pharaohs and Egyptian gods was far from the truth. Instead, he finds out firsthand that history isn’t always what it seems.
This is what Twilight should have been like had it not been so focused on that love triangle and tackled serious vampire business instead.
N.R. Walker rewrites what we know of the entire human civilization, interweaving vampire lore into human history. The majority of the book sets about world building which, although info dumpy, was highly appreciated because the questions Alec asked were what I would have asked myself. Even with the info dump, the pacing was just right, with events taking place mostly in Cronin’s posh apartment, plus sojourns to Scotland and Egypt in a span of few days. The vampire Elders, Cronin and fated pair Eiji and Jodis (he’s Japanese and can read DNA, she’s Nordic and can freeze liquids), Alec and other coven members were researching and preparing for a confrontation with Queen Keket who wants Alec. Keket was a new vampire who can resurrect the dead and in the grand tradition of villains everywhere, was hellbent on taking over the world. The battle was exciting, however, I do find the Egypt part slightly anti-climactic because the vampire queen, was defeated a little too easily. There were heart-stopping moments when a couple of the major characters had close calls but overall, this part felt rushed.
Cronin’s Key talks about the fated one, the ionndrainn cridhe in Gaelic, which explains the insta-attraction part. The experience was new to both Alec and Cronin and what I liked about it was that the two did the sensible thing, taking it slow and taking time to get to know each other instead of jumping into the nearest convenient bed despite the magnetic attraction between them. It was pretty cute how coven Elder and ancient vampire Cronin (ginger, Scottish, purrs like a cat) gets all shy and tender then possessive and growly around Alec. Alec (brilliant NYPD detective, sarcastic as hell) tried to resist but couldn’t deny what’s going on between them. Some might not be into slow burn this slow but I enjoyed the dance of want and self-denial between the fated pair. When it comes to OTPs, I’m all for delayed gratification.
History buffs, especially those into Egyptology, would enjoy Walker’s take on Egyptian mythology. MM readers would love the combination of insta-love and slow build romance. I enjoyed all of the above in addition to the humor, sarcasm, bad ass secondary characters and of course, outstanding voice acting by Joel Leslie, also narrator of Broken. Cronin’s Key was a veritable united nations of vampires but he pulled off each character really well.
And oh, Gaelic for extra kicks! To my untrained ear, it sounds like a language with a lot of rrr’s, like a lion’s rumble. Here’s my favorite part, when Alec was attacked by the Russian vampires:
Alec was pressed up against the living room wall, his heart beating so damn hard it felt as though it would stop. He was safe, he knew he was, because it was Cronin who pressed against him. His scent was like a balm, soothing and warm. Cronin’s hands pressed to Alec’s face. “Rug mi ort, rug mi ort,” he whispered over and over. It was Gaelic, though Alec had no clue what it meant. Cronin pressed his cheek to Alec’s. His eyes were closed. “Sàbhailtcachd, m’cridhe.”
Which translates to: ‘It’s okay, I have you, I have you.’ ‘You are safe, my heart.’
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits