REVIEW: Lars (Witches of London #1) by Aleksandr Voinov
Some problems you can’t solve with magick—and some you can.
After a homophobic pagan group rejected him, Lars Kendall is a solitary heathen on the Northern Path, loyal to the gods of the Norse pantheon. But being on his own sucks. So when he finally meets a mixed group of other queer witches and magick-users, it’s like finding family. If family involved exploring past lives and casting spells.
Rhys Turner quit a stressful job in the City after his high-strung boyfriend of six years walked out. He sold the expensive flat in central London and bought a run-down house out in the suburbs. Never mind that it needs walls knocked down, its garden landscaped, and what the hell is up with that carpet?
With his health failing, Rhys is desperate for a clean slate and a new start. He isn’t ready to fall in love with anybody, least of all the hunky builder who looks like he’s stepped out of a TV show about Vikings—tattoos, long hair, and all. But as strong and loyal as Lars is, he also has a very soft heart, which might be the hardest thing for Rhys to resist.
Dear Aleksandr Voinov,
There are not many m/m romances featuring modern pagans. While I know I have read a couple of them, off the top of my head I could not remember their names, so when I read the blurb of this book I was so curious I could not click fast enough. And I was curious not only because I was eager to read and learn about something new, I was curious because while I do not practice paganism and don’t know much about it, what I do know resonates with me very much.
I wanted to get to know Lars better from the moment I “met” him, when he is giving gifts and having conversation with the Gods he worships in his garden.
“He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, reached out in his mind to the trees before him, the ground underneath him, solid, alive, and the night wind on his face. The smell of the torches. The vastness of the sky above him, with the stars and full moon beyond. He emptied his mind until just those things remained. Only then did he speak the names of the gods in his mind: Odin, Freya, Thor, and all the others”
As the blurb tells you, Lars follows the Northern Path and worships the Gods of the Norse Pantheon. After giving gifts to these Gods he is asking them for guidance, and the runes he draws from the bag show a new beginning and other positive things.
Almost right away, Lars gets a phone call from Amanda, who is the organizer of a “Queer Witches Group” – Lars had tried to connect with them on the Internet a while ago, but she was travelling before and only just received his message. It turns out that Amanda and her girlfriend Sue live close to Lars and their group meets at their house, and they invite Lars to their next meetup.
The romantic storyline involves Lars and his new client, Rhys Turner. Lars renovates houses for a living, and Rhys has bought an old house which he wants to renovate (and it also needs major repairs).
Meet up with “Queer witches group” goes very well; Lars hits it off with all five regulars who come to almost every meeting – Amanda, her girlfriend Sue, Julian who is professional astrologer and two other guys. And Rhys calls Lars back and gives him the job.
The story spends a lot of page space showing the readers Pagan spiritual practices, and since the blurb uses the word “magics,” I will call them that as well (I do not want to use a wrong descriptor here). This part is well integrated into the story and felt very real to me, but beware – in my opinion the story belongs to the fantasy genre as much as it does to contemporary. I am not saying this just because some facets of Paganism are described in a lot of detail – rather, it is that some very specific things in the narrative seemed like Fantasy elements.
And of course we have Lars’ and Rhys developing relationship, which I really liked. It is set amongst Lars renovating the house and complicated by Rhys’ illness. I was very pleased how the author chose to handle that illness. Another reviewer of the book said something along the lines that Rhys was ill in every scene in the story and I agree with that, and I say it as a compliment. To me this means that the storyline was handled consistently. The author did not forget about Rhys’ being sick in some scenes and then bring his illness back again when it suited the needs of the plot. It was depressing to me, but I also really liked it.
I was also a little worried when Lars and his friends tried to help Rhys through their faith, their energy, and their magics – I do not want to spoil the story, so I am going to be vague about it. But basically I was afraid that Rhys would be magically cured, and that would not have sat well with me. I was glad when the story went in a slightly different direction.
I really liked Lars – he was a kind, loyal soul who knew who he was spiritually, but he also seemed interested in learning about others and who was very kind to everybody around him. I liked Rhys too, and his doubts made perfect sense to me considering how sick he was. The conflict was understandable, but when they bot back together that felt right too.
The ending is a nice HFN that made perfect sense, and if Julian (the astrologer from the group) is the next one to get his story, I would love to read it. I thought the “I love you” moment was really beautiful.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but it was a spectacularly low point in my life.” “I understand.” Lars looked up into his eyes, and saw Rhys vulnerable and clearly freaking out a little. He ran his hand along Rhys’ face. “It’s okay.” “I wasn’t ready to commit to anything or anybody. I was determined to wait until the rest of my life was more in control, until I knew whether I’d live or die, you know.” Rhys blinked a few times. “But the truth is, I never really had that choice. Maybe it wasn’t even my damn decision to make, I don’t know. You just came into my life and from that moment on, I was just lost in that feeling, and it was terrifying.”
“What feeling?” Lars’ throat felt tight. “I love you.” Rhys’ widened eyes hinted at terror, though tempered with something more, something so much bigger. Hope. Lars drew him into a tight hug, and Rhys clung to him immediately. He ran his fingers through Rhys’ hair and held him, so glad they could be like this, skin on skin, as lovers, as friends, as partners. No more hospitals for a while, instead freedom to travel, freedom to work out where they were going to take things. “I love you, too.” Rhys relaxed into the embrace. “Oh thank god.” Lars chuckled. “Yeah, I think they have something to do with it.” They kissed lazily until the fire had almost burned down, and rested on the bed.”
Grade : B+