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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NOTE: the author plagirized stories from fanfic writers. I’m retracting my review
This Is Not Revenge by Romilly King
The new dark gay romance series from Romilly King – Author of the Delphic Agency and Handled Series.
He’s never going to believe this is for his own good.
It looks like revenge.
I swear it’s not.
There is zero motivation for me to revenge what he did to my Father.
I’d rather kiss him for it.
(No, don’t think like that)
This is me doing the only thing I can to save him.
I can’t take the thought of one more death on my hands.
Too many people have lost everything so we can live.
And there is such power in the enemy vanquished.
He’ll understand, once I get through to him, once I explain it all, then we can be allies, or even friends.
I think I would like that.
It’s a shame I have to lock him up to do this.
(He does look really good in my chains though)
This Is Not Revenge is the first book in a new trilogy by gay romance author Romilly King. It features damaged characters, an unreliable narrator, and themes of dark, twisted love. The story arc will continue across all three books.
Trigger warning – this is a dark gay romance book and includes graphic violence, sexual scenes and psychological manipulation between lovers. Additional trigger warnings inside.
First of all, that blurb! I already knew I will love this even before I started. I just had that feeling. GIL and LEO ♡!!! Sweet, caring, enchanting, equal parts worldly and innocent, quite delusional, very adept at killing, Gil is everything and more. He is a favored son of a serial killer. Raised in a cult, he completely believes his father’s delusions that they have magic. He kidnaps Leo to keep him safe from his father’s wrath. His father has a long reach and other sons at his beck and call who will go after Leo. Leo is a forensic psychologist who helped put Gil’s father in prison. He describes himself as a typical gay man, thought himself capable of withstanding the mental tortures of an abduction but learns surprising things about himself while being chained to the wall. He also learns surprising things about his captor. The psychological aspect of the book was really well-done. This is written in dual POV which worked perfectly with the plot. It had me questioning whether the book might actually be paranormal, especially in light of Gil’s firm conviction that he can use magic. And yes, it would really seem he does. But then you would get Leo’s POV and the reality would shift back to the mundane. It was a real mindfuck. I loved it. I also loved that one line at the first part that hinted this might be set in the Handled world. If so, would there be cameos? Please? The trigger warnings set my expectations for this to be very dark and disturbing. It’s actually kind of mild a.k.a. I wasn’t disturbed (but YMMV so do heed the TWs). But it is quite intense in many ways. It is this intensity as well as the complex and compelling characters, the fast-paced plot and the brilliant writing that made the book perfect for me. This Is Not Revenge is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome stories I have read. I loved how the author laid out Gil and Leo’s internal conflicts, how they got to know each other, how they slowly won each other’s trust. I relished the delicious anticipation building up to the point when things shifted between them. You can really FEEL that moment. It was such a tender and sweet romance. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that, Stockholm Syndrome or not, they were able to find a pure and beautiful emotional connection amidst all these fucked up circumstances. For me, it’s what stood out the most. Witness this heartwrenching scene where they had to fight against the evil father: “We have to stop this.” Gil looks at me, “We?” “Yes.” There is utter certainty in my voice. “We, always we, from now on, forever, we.” There is a desperate hope in his eyes. “But I’m mad.” “Me too, apparently it’s catching, and I don’t care.” I’m suddenly fierce, suddenly determined, begging him to believe me. I don’t suppose there was ever much doubt. This madman, I love him. I can’t help it, and I am going to do everything I can to fight for him I too caught the bug, apparently, because I’m crazy about these two madmen.
This Is Not Revenge is book 1 of a trilogy. It ends with a cliffhanger.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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Rath and Rune: Unhallowed – Jordan L. Hawk
Monsters. Murder. Librarians.
Librarian Sebastian Rath is the only one who believes his friend Kelly O’Neil disappeared due to foul play. But without any clues or outside assistance, there’s nothing he can do to prove it.
When bookbinder Vesper Rune is hired to fill the vacancy left by O’Neil, he receives an ominous letter warning him to leave. After he saves Sebastian from a pair of threatening men, the two decide to join forces and get to the truth about what happened to O’Neil.
But Vesper is hiding secrets of his own, ones he doesn’t dare let anyone learn. Secrets that grow ever more dangerous as his desire for Sebastian deepens.
Because Kelly O’Neil was murdered. And if Sebastian and Ves don’t act quickly enough, they’ll be the next to die.
I mentioned somewhere on this blog that when I grow up, I want to be a Ladysmith Librarian, ready to defend the world against Outside forces with my trusty dictionary. I’m still waiting for my summons from Mr. Quinn, which is to me what a Hogwarts letter is to an HP fan.
Every Whyborne and Griffin fan knows what the Ladysmith Museum and its Library mean to the entire series. It was almost a character itself, holding a certain mystique that intrigued me to no end. So I was beyond overjoyed that we get an closer look at the inner workings of this fantastical library through the eyes of the very Librarians themselves!
Well, technically, its Archivist and its Book Binder.
Sebastian Rath and Vesper Rune are our heroes. Sebastian is a character I typically describe as likable. This is because I liked him, his co-workers like him but I don’t think he would really stand out as a secondary character. As the MC, he has admirable characteristics and some distinguishing quirks but I have yet to connect with him like I did with Vesper. Combining him with Ves though, they’re good together. The author did a great job making their dynamics stand out from those of the original series.
Vesper is my cinnamon roll. He’s very good at giving hugs. Raised in a cult by a fanatical mother, endured years of abuse, he and his brother, Nocturne, ran away. They lived in the ever present fear of being found out. He agreed to infiltrate the library for a sorcerer who promised to break the curse he and Noct are under.
Majority of the story was spent with him working hard to conceal his true nature. Ves’s knowledge of the real world was mostly limited to what his mother and grandfather taught him and his brother. Which is a load of occult mumbo jumbo, fearsome fighting skills and top-notched book binding techniques.
Unhallowed is set in 1910, 8 years after what should have been the end of the world, something that Ves and Noct were supposed to help bring about. Widdershins is now a different place. Still considered weird by outsiders but more accepting of the otherworldly as Ves was shocked to find out.
The world building is immersive. There is the Widdershin mythos we all know and love but seen through fresh eyes. You get a great sense of the labyrinthine library and the kind of work it takes to run the place. We also get some background on the illicit rare books trade and hear about Ves’s strong opinions on page margins.
The plot was a combination of paranormal, mystery and romance. It took place over the course of several days but it feels like the timeline is stretched because a lot of things were happening. Nonetheless, the story moved smoothly along. It tackled dark subjects, had a bit of angst but overall, the tone was light and humorous. It did a great job exploring the rich history of the original series, adding more delights to uncover. There were sinister secrets, crazy cults, dangerous books, mind-boggling designs, mad architects, evil necromancers and an unexpected love affair that answered some of my burning questions.
Rath and Rune has a great supporting cast, starting with Noct, who’s totally adorbs, the mysterious Mr. Quinn, the Head Librarian, Irene, Librarian and sorceress from the Endicott family, Bonnie, Sebastian’s sister and Mortimer, Librarian and Irene’s fiance. He was an obnoxious, annoying character who I developed an unlikely soft spot for because I’m kind of tickled with the idea of him and Irene. I hope the author gives them a nice story arc.
I love the direction this spin-off is heading! Unhallowed is a wonderful return to a beloved town with new characters to love and intriguing story arcs to keep you hooked. It’s a great start to another grand magical adventure that promises high-intensity book binding and pure-hearted weapons of mass destruction. If you love Whyborne and Griffin, curious about the Ladysmith library, and/or in the mood for some highly appealing wriggling bits, do read now!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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