Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: The Sumage Solution
SERIES: San Andreas Shifters #1
AUTHOR: G.L. Carriger
LENGTH: 314 pages
RELEASE DATE: July 18th, 2017
Can a gentle werewolf heal the heart of a smart-mouthed mage?
NYT bestseller Gail Carriger, writing as G. L. Carriger, presents an offbeat gay romance in which a sexy werewolf with a white knight complex meets a bad boy mage with an attitude problem. Sparks (and other things) fly.
Max fails everything – magic, relationships, life. So he works for DURPS (the DMV for supernatural creatures) as a sumage, cleaning up other mages’ messes. The job sucks and he’s in no mood to cope with redneck biker werewolves. Unfortunately, there’s something oddly appealing about the huge, muscled Beta visiting his office for processing.
Bryan AKA Biff (yeah, he knows) is gay but he’s not out. There’s a good chance Max might be reason enough to leave the closet, if he can only get the man to go on a date. Everyone knows werewolves hate mages, but Bryan is determined to prove everyone wrong, even the mage in question.
This story contains M/M sexitimes and horrible puns. If you get offended easily, then you probably will. The San Andreas Shifter stories contain blue language, dirty deeds, and outright admiration for the San Francisco Bay Area. Not for the faint of heart (mouth/tongue/etc.).
Max has been, and always would have been, a disappointment to his family–his father, in particular. Being gay was one thing, but being gay and turning out to be failure at all things magic, well that was clearly so far over the line that he probably should be drowning in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. But Max can’t change the latter, and has desire to change the former, so he’s learned to accept that he will never live up to his father’s demanding–and at times, painful–expectations. Which really should be easier to do since the man has been dead for over a decade. Instead Max tries to bury himself in a menial job at DURPS (a kind of DMV for supernatural creatures), and try to rid himself of the voice in his head that sounds an awful lot like his (non-)dearly departed father.
Bryan, beta to his brother’s Alpha, has moved with their small pack from the East Coast to avoid their old pack and their rather old-fashioned views on homosexuality and self-determination (i.e. beating the “gay” away). But in order to settle in the area they need to be registered, so Bryan offers (is forced) to spend the day waiting in line and dying of boredom. For the the sake of the pack. He’s a giver like that. Really…that is kind what the whole beta thing is all about. That doesn’t make death-by-bureaucracy any more pleasant. Though after catching an eye-full of Max–the man assigned to review the pack’s case–he is a bit less put-upon, and a whole lot more smitten.
But no one knows that Bryan is gay…and everyone knows that Max has enough daddy-issues to fill a house. Which doesn’t sound all that insurmountable. Especially when Bryan wears a shirt so tight Max wants to lick it off him.
I am a huge fan of this author’s other works. Some worked for me better than others, but I have always found them to be well written with a unique voice and an astounding ability to draw me into the story with only a few pages. I was ridiculously excited when I heard this book was going to exist. Typically this author writes m/f stories but I have always felt, from some sup-plots and characters in those stories, that she would be more than capable of pulling off the switch over into gay romance genre. Characters come alive under her pen (or, more likely, keyboard), and you can really tell here that she wasn’t just recreating stereotypes, slapping a cover on it, and calling it finished. I have always felt she has treated her LGBT characters with respect and intention in her other works, and it is all the more obvious here.
I especially loved this part of the conversation between Bryan (aka Biff) and Manifest Destiny–a secondary character, who doesn’t actually feature heavily in this book, but who ended up being one of my favorites.
“Do you prefer to be thought of as female or male?”
“It has to be one or the other?”
“The young ones have all sorts of pronouns these days. Nonbinary and flexible. One of those might work.”
Biff narrowed his eyes. “But you seem female. You smell female.”
Mana smiled, a full genuine smile. “Yes. Only with a cock. She is fine.”
“Okay.” If Mana didn’t mind, he’d stick with what his brain and nose told him.
Quiet descended and they puttered about the kitchen together in companionable silence. Mana seemed to be dampening her nature somehow, not so abrasive and commanding. Or perhaps that was coming from him, part of this numbness. Either way, Biff didn’t feel the need to get out of her way, avoid her direct notice. It gave him the ability to pry.
“Would you change, if you could?” Biff asked, curiosity breaking his lethargy.
“There is no answer to that. I self-heal, just like you. So, there is only acceptance and the courage in it. I suppose I should be transgender, under modern parlance. But I like drag queen. It suits me. I like the fabric roughness of drag, and the royalty of queen. It’s a nice change to have the luxury of choosing one’s own semantics, if not one’s own situation.”
There is just something about that last sentence that really spoke to me. This character could have so easily been just a comedic side-character. Heaven knows I’ve read dozen of books where the Drag Queen is just that. But here…let’s just say I don’t often find characters like this written with such intention and understanding. And Mana wasn’t even in the book that often. The author could have so easily gone the easy route here, but that she didn’t means all the more to me.
And if that is how the author treats her secondary characters, you can be damn sure that her protagonists are wonderfully written. They have layers and flaws–some not so obvious on first or second inspection–and grow throughout the book in the way all good characters should. Max is snarky–but also is afraid to put himself out there in fear of rejection–and Bryan is strong–but that comes from carrying the weight of his need to care for those he loves. Reading this book was never a chore because each new chapter brought to light a new facet of their personalities. The give and take, the rise and fall, of their relationship was understandable and sympathetic. Though I will admit to wanting to shake Max a bit at the end there. Yet I never once thought either of them acted out of character–just maybe acting on the less stellar parts of that character.
If there is one flaw in this book, it is the world building. Sorta. See, I really love the world in this story. Especially as you get to know it more as the story progresses. It is interesting and sucked me in with each new revelation. However…this book comes at you fast and hard with terms and designations of the various beings and magic (referred to as quintessence in this world) users. If you are not paying close attention it can be a bit easy to get lost from time to time. It gets easier as the story progresses and the bones of the world become more obvious, but there were times when I was having to pause reading and try to remember just what a certain character or designation could do. It occasionally made the story a bit start-and-stop. I will say though that I believe this is one of those books that is far better on the second read, than on the first, because I came out the of the end of the book having a firmer grasp on this world. I’m curious to go back and see what I might have missed on this first read-through.
This story ended up being a real pleasure to read. There were a few things I think could have been tightened up a little, but to be honest? when all the cards are all down, I had fun reading it and that is enough for me. I am now truly curious to see where this series goes. There were some really great twists that happen at the end of this book, and be it another story from this couple’s povs, or maybe from other pack members, I have a feeling this is going to be a series you won’t want to miss.