Tag Archives: paranormal fantasy

Reading Rec: Salt Magic, Skin Magic

I received an ARC of Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch in exchange for an honest review.

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When Lord Thornby was dragged back to his father’s estate, he never imagined he wouldn’t be able to leave. Fearing his sanity is slipping when he can’t move past a seemingly invisible barrier, Thornby worries he has no chance of escaping until John Blake arrives. Masquerading as a guest, Blake has his own mission, to figure out what witchcraft is going on at the estate. When Thornby realizes Blake is the key to his escape, the men team up to fight the forces at play only to discover Thornby is more than he appears.

In the tradition of writers like Jordan L. Hawk and K. J. Charles, Lee Welch takes us on an adventure of magic, romance, and of course queer characters. Don’t mistake my reference to other authors of queer historical-fantasy as saying Welch’s work isn’t original. The magical system is wholly her own. What I loved about it was how it artfully combined the mystique of Victorian beliefs in faeries and paranormal creatures while also aligning with the heavy industrialism of the era. Magic can come in several ways, through faerie folk, demons, and by utilizing commonplace objects. This comes with a set of preconceived notions involving class and misconceptions about magic due to this rigid structure. The interweaving of these aspects of the Victorian Era keep us grounded in a historical reality while expanding it [logically] to contain magical elements.

Thornby and Blake are charming characters, each determined to find their way out of this magical muddle, and while there is a little friction at first, they quickly become a well-oiled team. They have fantastic chemistry, and more importantly, I loved how quirky they both can be. Thornby seems like an eccentric at first, but as the story progresses, his behavior begins to make more sense. With Blake, he is like Thornby’s foil and offsets his emotional and quirky side with a more utilitarian calm.

My only real quibble with this book was at times I found the romance aspects a bit gratuitous. I know that is a convention of the genre, but even for paranormal romance, it felt like a lot. This may have been because I read the book rather quickly and it only felt compressed. The scenes themselves though are written well and varied in terms of emotional and physical intimacy.

If you’re a fan of noblemen in emotional crisis or magic in a unique form, then Salt Magic, Skin Magic should be moved to the top of your to-be-read pile. Grab a copy here, and congrats to Lee Welch on their new release!

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Chapter Four of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to whet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one, chapter two, and chapter three.

Chapter Four

 A Blood Bond

 

Carefully pulling the door shut behind her, Emmeline listened in the stillness for any sign of her aunt or uncle, but the house remained quiet. Emmeline tucked the half-wrapped book under arm, keeping it away from her damp cloak as she tiptoed up the steps. The moment she hit the first landing, she darted up the next set of stairs and hurried into her room. As she reached the door, a familiar red head peeked out from a room down the hall.

“Emmeline, is everything all right?”

She quickly shut the door, biting down the urge to be snappish. Go away! she mouthed before replying sweetly, “Yes, Aunt Eliza. I’m just getting changed. Cassandra and I walked home, and I’m soaked.”

“Be sure to dry your hair, so you don’t catch a chill. Dinner should be ready in half an hour.”

When she heard her aunt retreat, she exhaled, threw the lock, and turned on the gas lamps. Laying the book on the bed beside her reticule, she pulled off her soggy cloak and draped it across the hearth screen. By the time Emmeline had slipped off her muddy boots, the paper wrapper had fallen away to reveal the infinite series of floral swirls and symbols etched into the book’s leather cover. The pink wallpaper and the sounds of Wimpole Street below died away as she drew closer until her gloved fingers brushed the tome’s edge. A hum buzzed through her fingertips, and before she realized what she was doing, she had pulled off her gloves and pressed the flats of her palms to it. Warmth radiated beneath her clammy hands. She pursed her lips, debating if she should reread the letter again, but she knew what it would tell her. Pass the book on. Find someone else who can keep it safe. She should go down to her uncle’s office, wrap it in clean paper, and send it off to someone in the Oxford Spiritualist Society. But who? Her mother had been the head of it until— Emmeline sighed. There was no one. Maybe if she read the book, then she would know who could help.

As if hearing her thoughts, the silver latch clicked open. Gently lifting the cover, Emmeline’s eyes widened as they ran over a series of arcane rings drawn within. They looped and overlapped, catching and holding onto the next design’s orbit like celestial bodies. She ran her finger across the ancient ink, energy rippling with each stroke.

“Ow!” Emmeline cried, dropping the book. A bead of blood formed at the end of her finger, but as she looked up, she caught a pulse of light. Emmeline blinked. No, it had to have reflected off the latch, she told herself as she sucked the blood from her finger and picked up the book with her other hand. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she cradled the unwieldy tome in her lap. Somehow it hadn’t seemed so clunky when it was closed, but open, it covered the width of her thighs.

The title page was nearly blank apart from the words Fiat experimentum in corpore vili origin and an etching of a corpse and a man embracing. The man was dressed in the stockings and doublet of the Renaissance, his classical physique muscular and sinuous. He reached out, his hand caressing the corpse’s skinless cheek. A dark robe hung loose from the corpse’s form, revealing the bundles of muscle and the white of tendons beneath. If it was a medical book, why would anyone want it so badly?

Any thoughts of her uncle’s copy of Grey’s Anatomy died away when she turned the page. Both sides of the parchment contained saucer-sized circles filled with minute symbols that she swore she had seen before on old monuments or the altars her mother had built to Hecate and the Great Goddess. Others were alien, no more decipherable than scribbles, but there was something beautiful about the circles. Her eyes trailed along the curves of the lines before darting along the triangles and irregular shapes that connected the dissonant symbols. As she took them in, a wave reverberated through her mind like the silent twang of a tuning fork.

Amid the perfect hoops and lines was a red blotch. Raising the book nearly to her nose, she watched as the bubble of blood imploded into the crevice. It slid along the channel, forming a tiny river that flowed across the parchment. A little voice in the back of Emmeline’s mind told her to drop the book, that it wasn’t normal. She needed to wrap it up and pretend she never saw it, but her hands stayed locked on each cover until the blood hit the edge of the first sigil. The moment it entered the circle, it sluiced counter-clockwise around the ink, zipping across the straight tangents and shadowing the arcane letters in a halo of red. As the last line filled, a rumble passed through Emmeline’s hands. The book shook until she could scarcely hold it and her bed’s iron frame bounced against the wall. The red shadow of her blood burned black before flashing white-hot and finally fading to a burnished gold. Light gathered in the center of the sigil, casting a hot glow against her cheeks as it grew to the size of a grapefruit. The saliva evaporated from her mouth as the ball of light lifted from the page and hovered only inches before her nose.

The pop of shattering glass resounded from the sconce near the door. She wanted to scream as the lights on either side of the fireplace blew out in a hail of glass, but the ball of light held her wholly. The world slowed to nearly a halt as glass hurtled past her and scattered across the coverlet, the book and its ball of energy deflecting the blows. Gas hissed in the empty sconces but was overtaken by the sound of faint whispers. Words rose and fell from the orb, all incomprehensible, but in her mind, she knew it was speaking about her.

She stared into its depths. A maelstrom of faces and voices rose to the surface. A woman’s face with familiar dark, strong brows and full lips held her gaze before dissolving into flames. Emmeline bit her lip against the sudden pain squeezing her heart, but before it could fully bloom, her mother’s face fell away to reveal the kind, open features of a young man. He stared down at her with his mismatched eyes wide with fear. A ripple of energy shot through her hands as the sphere faltered. The images spun away as the whispers evolved into a droning chant. Its rhythm rang through her chest and the bones of her arms. It spoke to something deep within her, something she only rarely became aware of. She had felt it stir months ago when she had spoken to the Prince Consort’s soul, but since then, it had remained dormant. With a final pulse, the wick lit and a glow filled her. Her head spun as the power infiltrated her form with a sickening heat. Her body tensed, jerking against invisible binds as the feeling ebbed. When Emmeline closed her eyes, a web slowly pulled away from her skin before flying toward the empty hearth.

Opening her eyes, she found the orb gone and the room slipping into darkness. She stared down at the book. Where her blood had once been, it now faded to a dull golden-brown. Behind her the globe-less gas lamps hissed. Closing the tome, she carefully stepped over the broken glass littering the rug and flipped off the lights. Glassy grit crunched beneath her feet as she walked to the window. As she forced it open, a balmy breeze caressed her cheek and blew away the lingering heat in her face and hands.

Below her on Wimpole Street, men and women pushed past in a crush of grey and black umbrellas and coats. Through the dull, beating rain, shadowed faces stared up at her. A man stood in the middle of the road his gold eyes locked on the upper window, heedless of the steamers and carriages rolling by. She averted her gaze as one barreled toward him, but when she looked again, he was still there. Two women darted across the road in front of him. When they reached him, she expected to see them separate and walk around him. Instead, they passed through him. The man’s face rippled and condensed, yet his gaze never left her. Something about him was faintly familiar. He was too far for her to make out the details in his face, but there was a sheen of light hair and the power in his shoulders. Emmeline’s heart pounded in her throat as she backed up and yanked the curtains shut. Even with them tightly closed, she swore she could feel his eyes boring into her through the veil of velvet.

She had to get rid of it. Grabbing the book, she spun, desperately searching for a place to hide it. If people were after it, it had to be bad, especially if it made her see things against her will again. From the force of the blast, perfume bottles and pots of lotion had blown across her dressing table along with her box of hair ribbons, which had spilled its contents in a jumbled rainbow across the floor. She ripped open the drawer and tried to stuff the book in, but it was too wide. Footsteps echoed up the hall from the stairs. Her eyes flickered over her dresser and trunk before coming to rest on her bed. Getting down on all fours, Emmeline slipped under the wooden frame. Bits of glass pressed into her back and knees as she stuffed the book between the slats that supported her mattress.

“Emmeline, what are you doing in there? I thought I heard glass break.”

Emmeline slid out, grimacing at the sound of her dress tearing against a shard.

The doorknob rattled. “Emmeline, open the door.”

What could she say to her aunt to explain the broken glass? A hairline crack had formed across the mirror as well as in the top of the window. Her aunt would surely think she had done it on purpose, a tantrum for something that had happened earlier. Looking down at her leg, she watched as a line of blood trickled a fresh scratch. She touched it to her cheek and applied a little under her chin. As she took a deep breath, Emmeline blinked until tears, half real from fear, formed at the edge of her eyes. Opening the door, she threw herself into her aunt’s arms.

“Aunt Eliza, it was terrible! The lamps exploded! I don’t know what happened, but they popped,” she cried as she buried her face in her aunt’s shoulder.

“Dear lord.”

Closing her eyes, Emmeline felt Eliza’s long hands running over her back and into her hair as she shushed her. She released a tight breath as her aunt pulled her back to inspect her reddened eyes and the blood smeared on her cheeks.

Eliza Hawthorne rubbed her niece’s trembling shoulders and whispered, “Now, now, you’re all right.”

Her quick green eyes ran over the glass littering the fabric vines of the rug to the crack in the window. “How did this happen?”

“I don’t know.”

Eliza cocked a thin, red brow and sighed. “Let me fetch the dust bin.”

As Eliza disappeared into the hall, Emmeline pulled back the curtain and shuddered. Standing on the street below, staring up at the window, was the same man as before, but now, he had company.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Want a glimpse of Dead Magic?

As promised on my Facebook page, here is a little unedited preview of Dead Magic. Coming this fall:

Immanuel looked over his shoulder and spotted a vase sitting in the center of the kitchen table, overflowing with ferns fronds, forget-me-notes, and periwinkle traveler’s joy. Adam had given them to him when he arrived, but now their edges were curled and turning brown while their heads dolefully flopped over the side. Immanuel set down his tea and picked up the vase. As he made for the sink, he turned, expecting to find Adam behind him but found nothing. He went to take a step forward but was knocked off kilter by something hitting his chest. Heat seared through his veins, snaking through his core until it hit his heart and shot through his body one beat at a time. Swallowing hard, he leaned against the counter, busying himself with the flowers to keep Adam from seeing the fear in his eyes. He took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes, hoping the stutter in his heart would stop.
“Immanuel? Immanuel, are you all right?”
Immanuel jerked back as water overflowed from the crystal vase and ran over his hands and cuffs. The creeping heat abated at the water’s touch until it only lingered as a tight ball lodged near his heart. Releasing a tight breath, he swallowed hard and carried the flowers back to the table without a word. As he raised his gaze to the dying flowers, his chest tightened. Before his eyes, the flowers’ heads uncurled and the bits of brown he had seen a moment earlier eating away at the edges of the petals dissolved. Across the table, Adam absently poked at a sugar cube bobbing in his cup, unaware of his partner’s sudden urge to pitch the plants out the backdoor. Immanuel averted his gaze, but when he looked back a moment later, the blues and purples of the forget-me-nots were more vibrant than the day he arrived.
Something was wrong with him. Something was very wrong.
“I— I think I’m going to lie down for a little while.”
Adam’s arm wrapped around his shoulders, pressing Immanuel’s back into his chest. “You look flushed. Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped but caught himself. “I’m just tired.”
“Well, I will come up with you.”
Immanuel crossed his arms. “I can get up the stairs by myself. I’m not feeble anymore.”
“I think you misunderstood me.” Adam slowly raised his gaze to Immanuel’s, locking eyes as he held his arms. “I want to come up.”
Immanuel’s mouth formed a soundless O, and before he could think about what Adam said, they were checking the locks on the doors and covering the windows. Darting up the stairs, Immanuel slipped off his jacket and tie and tossed them into his undisturbed bedroom as he passed. He waited at the threshold of Adam’s door, watching his companion carefully close the curtains to ensure no one could see inside. It had become a nightly ritual that Adam had started months before Immanuel moved in to help avoid suspicion from their neighbors. When the room was dark, Adam took his hand and led him to the bed where he snaked his hand under Immanuel’s shirt and ran along the flesh of his back. Even after a week together, Immanuel still hesitated, expecting someone to be just beyond the door. It seemed too good to be true to have such freedom.
“Mr. Winter,” Adam whispered into Immanuel’s skin as he planted a trail of hot, moist kisses down his neck, “I have been waiting for this all day.”
But why? He resisted the urge to ask a question that would only elicit a strange look from Adam and an equally awkward reply.
Before Immanuel could stop him, Adam’s fingers were flying over the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt. He resisted the urge to stiffen and cover his deformed chest with his arms, and instead he copied Adam. Beneath his bright dandy’s clothes, Immanuel was as solid and strong as Immanuel felt frail, all ribs and scars. Adam pushed Immanuel against the bedpost, catching his mouth. His pencil mustache scratched Immanuel’s lip as the redhead’s tongue plunged and grazed against his. The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat. Closing his eyes, he let his companion explore his mouth and his ever-changing body. Adam’s hands worked along his sides before sliding over the firm flesh of his buttock, eliciting a soft groan from his companion. Heat crept up Immanuel’s form, tensing every muscle in his abdomen and sending his heart out of rhythm. Immanuel blindingly undid the buckle of Adam’s belt and felt the slide of his fine wool trousers slipping down his legs. Reaching for his own, Immanuel kicked them off and pulled Adam toward the mattress.
The bed sighed under their weight as Adam climbed atop of him. His eyes drank in Immanuel’s form while his hands rested on his ribs. Adam caressed the dents where his ribs hadn’t properly knit together. Immanuel swallowed hard at the thought of being prone and unable to stop Adam’s mental dissection. He hoped it was too dark for Adam to see him, but his mind was silenced by a shiver rippling from his scalp to his curling toes. Immanuel raised his eyes to meet Adam’s gaze. A wordless conversation passed between them, and Adam’s lips curled into a knowing grin. Immanuel stiffened, his hips twitching, as Adam nipped at his collarbones and ran his tongue along his sternum and down the scant trail of hair leading to his flannel drawers. His fingers laced into Adam’s henna hair as a gasp escaped his lips at the rush of air and the goosebumps rising on the tops of his thighs as his drawers were pulled away.
“I want to make you feel better,” Adam murmured, his breath hot against his stomach.
Immanuel closed his eyes, fisting the sheets as Adam drew him in. He needed him, he needed this. He needed to be reminded that even after all that happened, there was still love in the world. More than anything, he needed Adam to make him forget.


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Book Review: “The 13th Hex” by Jordan L. Hawk

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Title: “The 13th Hex” (Hexworld 0.5) by Jordan L. Hawk

Genre: Paranormal/arcane fantasy

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: A great short story that introduces a new world featuring witches, familiars, hexes, and of course, Teddy Roosevelt.

The official blurb:

Romance. Magic.
Murder.

Dominic Kopecky dreamed of becoming a member of New York’s Metropolitan Witch Police—a dream dashed when he failed the test for magical aptitude. Now he spends his days drawing the hexes the MWP relies on for their investigations.

But when a murder by patent hex brings crow familiar Rook to his desk, Dominic can’t resist the chance to experience magic. And as the heat grows between Dominic and Rook, so does the danger. Because the case has been declared closed—and someone is willing to kill to keep it that way.

The 13th Hex is the prequel short story to the all-new Hexworld series. If you like shifters, magic, and romance, you’ll love Jordan L. Hawk’s world of witch policemen and the familiars they bond with.


I’m a total glutton for Jordan L. Hawk’s work, and when I saw that she was creating a new series centering around 19th century New York City, I was beyond excited. If “The 13th Hex” is any indication of the rest of the series, I’ll pre-order every single installment.

The story centers around Dominic Kopecky, a hexman working at the New York Metropolitan Witch Police. His job is a tedious one, copying, analyzing, and perfecting hexes that the police use, but Dominic is the best in the business, which brings Rook into his world. Rook is a familiar without a witch, investigating murders caused by a faulty hex. While the police have closed the case, Rook suspects there’s something more. What ensues is a very enjoyable short mystery with a hint of steam.

Jordan L. Hawk instantly makes me fall in love with her characters. Dominic is the typical quiet office worker with his nose to the grindstone. While this wasn’t the job he wanted, he does it to the best of his ability, and the brief moments of hope in Dominic’s thoughts totally endeared him to me. Rook is all sensuality and action, but what I loved about her familiars is that they have characteristics of their animal forms without shoving it down the reader’s throat. Rook’s laugh is described as cawing while Cicero, the cat familiar, has a languid air to him while reverting to cat-like disdain at the sight of water.

“The 13th Hex” is a short story, so I’ll keep the review brief. The world Hawk is setting up is steeped in history and wrapped in sigils, magical creatures, and murder mysteries. The downside to “The 13th Hex” is that it’s so short. I really wanted a longer work because I loved Rook and Dominic’s dynamic and it made the pace incredibly fast. A few thousand more words may have satisfied me more.

Overall, “The 13th Hex” is a fantastic short story to introduce a new series, and I can’t wait for Hexbreaker.

You can buy “The 13th Hex” here for $0.99.

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