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
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Secret Santa – Jay Northcote
Keeping secrets is never a good way to start a relationship…
Theo hardly has time to date. Between work and caring for his four-year-old son there aren’t many hours left over. He’s lonely though, so he joins a hook-up app and starts chatting to a guy called Luke. Luke seems friendly and they arrange to meet. Theo doesn’t mention that he has a child. It’s early days and he’s worried about putting Luke off before they get to know each other.
Luke is currently working as Santa at the local shopping mall. He figures Theo never has to know. Christmas will be over soon and Luke will move on to a new, less embarrassing job. He’s surprised when Theo and a little boy visit Santa one afternoon. Theo doesn’t recognise Luke, and Luke realises he’s not the only one with a secret.
Despite misgivings on both sides, they start dating, and the chemistry is amazing. But as Christmas approaches their secrets pile up like colourful packages under the tree. If they’re not careful, they’ll lose the best gift of all—each other.
Secret Santa reminded me of the things I hate about dating. Namely, the awkward getting to know you questions, the contrived atmosphere and most of all, the false advertisements. My approach is to exchange a list of worst attributes right off the bat, see if the other person can or can’t live with those and take it from there. That way, nobody wastes time on false hopes. Obviously, this is not how normal human interactions happen. Which is why my dealings with other people are usually stilted and awkward.
Anyway, Luke and Theo went with the more conventional approach, that is, good ole Grindr.
Luke is currently temping as the Santa for M&S since he is in between jobs. He’s kind of grumpy but has a nice sense of humor. He’s fed up with hookups. He only started chatting with Theo because he’s cute and doesn’t seem the like typical horny douche he usually sees on Grindr. They hit it off remarkably well on that first chat. And they continue to hit it off through out the whole story.
Theo is geeky and sweet. He works at the Apple store as a technician. He’s a wonderful dad. He co-parents with his friend (sorry forget her name), who is the mother of his son, Archie. He’s completely devoted to Archie but having a kid in the equation puts off a lot of guys he tried to date. So when he found Luke, who he really liked, he kept that teeny tiny fact a secret.
Normally I don’t pay attention to children characters but Archie is great. He felt like a real kid. He’s only 4 years old and quite well-spoken but not in an overly mature, smarter than the adults way that is so often the case in fiction. He loves dinosaurs and Luke’s Santa presents.
I didn’t enjoy Luke’s and Theo’s avoidances, omissions and blatant lies. Hell, Luke even gave Theo major openings to fess up multiple times but nooo, the man stuck to his story. I’m also dinging Luke for not telling Theo he knew about Archie. Seriously, they could have just talked!
However, the blurb was definitely not lying about their chemistry. It was indeed amazing! This really shone through everything and I enjoyed it so much that I kept reading. It was like, the way I felt about the book mirrored the way these two characters felt about each other and their situation. Yes, there were niggles but I knew deep down, Luke and Theo were worth sticking around for.
Patience paid off big time because when everything came out in the open, the story became more rewarding. Luke and Theo’s relationship felt fresher and stronger now that they were 100% honest with each other. I loved how Archie effortlessly included Luke in their little family. And Luke won major points for coming up with a brilliant idea to have Santa visit their house.
This novella is narrated by Hamish Long. I haven’t listened to a lot of his audiobooks but now that has to change because I really liked his Theo voice. My favorite part was his portrayal of Archie because he really sounded like an articulate small child. Luke sounded good too. Overall, his narration was another factor that made the book more fun. His style is a great match to Jay Northcote‘s writing. If I remember correctly, he was also the one who performed Harper Fox‘s Brothers of the Wild North Sea and he did exceptionally well there too.
Even with the major lack of communication, Secret Santa is a warm, cozy, low-angst and very sweet story. It’s full of holiday cheers and feel-good vibes. It’s short but felt complete. All in all, it’s 3 hours 44 minutes well spent and a good book to keep you company while waiting for Santa.
Thank you to Signal Boost Promotions and Audible for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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