Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Spectred Isle
SERIES: Green Men #1
AUTHOR: K.J. Charles
PUBLISHER: KJC Books
LENGTH: 243 pages
RELEASE DATE: August 3, 2017
Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.
Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.
Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.
The Great War and The War Beneath may be done, but the damage still lingers on.
For Saul Lazenby, betrayed and disgraced before everyone he knows, London isn’t so much a return to normal as it is the only place left that will have him. And, well, even that is stretching it a bit much. Once an archaeologist that worked with some of the best minds in the field, he is now reduced to following the crazy whims of his employer, who sees mystical and secret events in everything around him. Saul thinks him mostly harmless, though, and seeing as he is the only one willing to pay him, Saul is willing to play along. That is until the mystical and real start merging…leaving Saul unsure if he is the crazy one after all.
Randolph Glyde, heir to a now denuded ancient and powerful family tree of arcanists, knows that the veil between worlds is hanging by ever-thinning threads. He knows because he, his family, his countrymen, and their opposites on the other side of the line were the ones to rip it to shreds during the war. All in the name of country, and to the detriment of all. Now spirits and monsters of deepest legend are creeping easily between the two worlds, and there are very few men and women left to fight them. Which makes the fact that someone seems to be helping things along all the more alarming.
Thrown together by happenstance–and perhaps a bit of fate–Saul and Randolph must figure out what is causing the mysterious events plaguing London and the countryside. Because if they can’t, there is no one left who can.
While I didn’t know it at the time I requested it, Spectred Isle is tangentially related to K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal. Which is freaking awesome because I dearly wanted a sequel to that book. And while Simon and Robert are not actually a part of this new story, it does take place in the same world, just a few years on after the end of the war. And if I am not to get an direct sequel to Secret Casebook, I am more than happy to have this in its place.
A master at mixing mystery, magic, and romance, Charles is one of my go-to’s when I desperately need to fill a craving for all things historical. And this series is shaping up to be one of my favorites–though heaven knows I’ve said that about pretty much everything she has written. There is just something about the mystery here that had me on tenterhooks. I liked that it wasn’t all wrapped up in a bow by the end of the story, but also how it gave me enough to feel happy with what I got. That is a pretty fine line for me usually, and I was impressed by how it pulled it off. Usually this kind of thing annoys me more than intrigues me.
While reading this story I couldn’t help but be reminded of a few of my other favorite series. If you love Jordan L. Hawk’s monsters from her Widdershins series, I think you are going to really like the creatures here. Charles does a really good job of making the creepy come to life–especially when the creepy is just a laugh dark, or a feeling of being watched and hunted. I wasn’t scared, per se, but there were definitely a few spine-tingling moments. And if I had to get up and turn the lights on because it felt like something was watching me as I read…well, I’m almost positive that it was just the cats.
This story also reminded me a bit of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series–if that series had been written as a historical and not in modern times. Which, yeah, now that I think of it…that is totally something I need now. While not exactly the same, there were a few common threads that really liked. I really enjoyed learning about Randolph and his past. Even the parts that had me nope-ing right out of the room (all I’ll say is this: tree, meat hooks, nine fucking days). Luckily that part didn’t get explicit, but I shudder every time I think about it. I have, unfortunately, a very good imagination. The magical parts of this world are very well set up though, and it had me endlessly intrigued and needing to know more. I might not be able to see all the layers that have gone into creating this world, but I can easily tell they are there and just waiting to be discovered. Not everything is explained, but everything that you need to know if there for you to find.
Which pretty much sums up the romance here as well. This book definitely doesn’t focus on the romance, but it doesn’t short-change it either. The mystery and the romance build off each other very well, here. The mystery feeds the romance, and the romance gives urgency to the mystery. It also makes the stakes all the more personal, since, yes, the whole of England (and most likely everywhere else) is as risk…but “the world is going to end” plots are not exactly thin on the ground. The romance gave me a reason to care what happens in this completely fictional world. And that last battle…I loved that. Just all the things that happened there with the characters and their choices just made me all kinds of happy.
Spectred Isle ended up being pretty much everything I hoped it would be. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are very well written, and it left me with just enough questions to be salivating at the prospect of book two. If you love K.J. Charles’ other books, I’m pretty confident you will love this one as well. And if you have yet to dig into her back-catalog, well I would say this is a great way to start. It can easily stand alone, but it is also filled with plenty of hints to make you want to find out more later on.