Dear Ms. Egan:
Based on the entirely unoriginal cover and blurb, I had pretty low expectations of this book because of my aversion to historical set paranormals so I was a bit surprised that I did enjoy parts of it. I liked the tone and voice in the book but felt somewhat unmoored during much of the book as I tried to figure out the world construct.
Set in 1816, Cormac Cúchulainn Flannery “Mac” is an Imnada, a shifter, who was cast out of the clans when he and three other shifters were caught by a Fae curse that forced a shift upon them. When one of their cursed brothers dies, Mac overhears his purported mistress, Bianca Parrino, vow to keep the dead man’s secret. Mac is concerned that this Convent Garden actress, Bianca, poses a threat to the surviving shifters and pursues her.
Bianca has no idea that her dead friend is a shifter. Rather, she caught her friend nude with another man and presumes that the two are lovers. However, rumors arise that Bianca has had a hand in her friend and former lover’s death and is forced to leave the stage until the rumors die down.
When Mac approaches her, she becomes swept up in Mac’s search for a cure to the curse and an age old fued between the Fae and the Imnada.
As out clan, Mac and his friends were considered pariah and therefore could have no prospects for a real life. No relationship or family could be theirs because no Imnada woman would have them. But the Imnada have been subject to purges by the Other (fae blooded) and the Imnada numbers are dwindling rapidly. In response to the purges, strict rules have been instituted that forbids interrelations and exposure with individuals not Imnada. The sentence for those who obtain knowledge of the out clans is death and the sentence for the clan members who violate these rules is death or banishment.
One of my biggest problems is how unevenly the worldbuilding was unspooled. I spent at least 50% of the book unclear as to how exactly the curse affected the shifters. The main part of the worldbuilding is dumped on the reader in two large chunks. First, in the prologue and second in a dream sequence of some sort when a friend of Bianca’s tells her of how the feud between Imnada and the Others began. The second is kind of sprung on us and for all the Fae and Imnada’s desire for secrecy, they certainly don’t hesitate to share with others their origins and magic.
The story shifted from pursuit of the cure and a murder mystery of sorts and the romance between Bianca and Mac simply exists in between some heated glances and a couple of impassioned but surprising kisses. Despite the confusing world building and the lack of real romantic development, I enjoyed the two main protagonists.
Mac’s desire to return home was poignant. He spent his youth wanting to escape the clans, feeling it was restrictive and now that he is older, he wants nothing more than to return to his family but that is what is foreclosed to him. Bianca is a survivor who endured an abusive husband and built a life for herself as an actress. She’s got nerves of steel and a quick mind.
But every time the story moved into more trite territory such as showing the villain having incest sex or Bianca’s past sexual abuse being soothed by the magic peen, my interest in the story began to wane.
I was left wondering why Bianca is given the sexual dysfunction edit. Was it to show how magical Mac was? With all the magical issues and running for their lives, searching for a cure, why include the sexual trauma arc? Was it to build up Bianca in the story because she wasn’t a shifter or Fae? Wasn’t it enough that she had an abusive ex husband and felt like a normal family life was foreclosed to her due to her position in society? Or that she was helping to solve the dilemma of the curse based on her botany background?
I was much more interested in the plot thread about how family and kinship can be developed and that all that Mac, Bianca and other “out clan” people desired could be obtained if only they would shift their perspective. As Mac’s feelings deepen for Bianca and as he gets to know other out clanners, his loyalty for those people strengthen. The juxtaposition between Mac’s wishes to return home to the clans and an outclanner’s young son straining at the household rules to remain silent and hide away was also well done, driving home the point of the impetuousness of youth versus desires of adulthood:
Jory’s gaze returned to the flames, the light hollowing the toughened angles and lines, making his eyes glow dull. “Life is risk. Play it too safe and it’s no longer living, just surviving.”
I’m interested in seeing where the next book in the series takes me in this series. I hope for a little more romantic development but I like the characters and the writing. C