Spectred Isle, by K. J. Charles

9 Aug

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this novel a few weeks ago, and I had hoped to post the review before its release.

Alas, work, life, RWA, and the world being on fire, mean I’m late.

Reader, beware: if you have issues with paranormal stories, with adult language, or with explicit sex between consenting adults, you may want to skip this one.

Spectred Isle, by K. J. Charles

This is the first title in the Green Men series, which is set in the same universe as The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal; it can, however, be read on its own perfectly well.

The story is set in 1923, in an England still reeling from WWI, at a time where veil between worlds has been damaged almost irreparably, and when most of those who would know what to do, are dead.

Here’s the much-better-than-usual blurb:

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 fulfill 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.

I think it’s worth nothing that this paranormal world revolves around English myths, with which I am not familiar–at all. This worked for me, as it build the suspense. Very little is explained, and what is, is never spelled out.

While Saul–and the reader–are completely in the dark, it’s evident from early on that Randolph knows much more than he’s willing to share, about all the strange things that are happening.

Since the story alternates their points of view, the world building is presented slowly and somewhat disjointedly, but in such a way the reader is compelled to keep reading, to find out more, to make sense of what is going on, both in the world at large, and between Saul and Randolph.

The first clearly other incident is pretty scary, yet the first truly terrifying event occurs as two men walk amiably down an empty road, amid the tranquil fens, talking to each other more openly than they have so far. How did the author manage to make me feel claustrophobic as the characters walk through an open landscape, I leave it to you to discover.

Something I appreciated quite a bit is that, while there is an instant spark between the two main protagonists, they are written as complex men who have plenty of baggage, as well as enough current troubles, to be getting on with as it is–and that’s not even counting the importune meddling from an obscure branch of Britain’s government, or its interest in Randolph, these strange goings-on, and Saul’s part on them.²

Which means that they are both rather reluctant to engage in illicit encounters with each other.

If only both wouldn’t keep turning up at the same places, as forces one doesn’t know about, and the other can’t control, buffet them about.

Between their mutual attraction, and the secrets between them, the sexual tension is intensely delicious. And the dialogue is so incredibly fantastic–sarcastic and tender, quick witted and tentative. Seriously, the chemistry between these two is off the charts.

You are being a brick, he said inadequately. Thanks.

Nonsense. I can’t think of anyone with whom I’d rather be stuck in an endlessly recurring loop of bloody bogland. That said, shall we get out of here?

Let’s. How?

Absolutely no idea.

At one point, Randolph tells Saul, “You had your nature turned against you. That is not a condition to be envied.” I noticed the statement as I read it, but it didn’t hit me until later, the sheer awfulness of that reality–which is still the reality for so many today. So, yes, K. J. Charless did make me cry at work.

Saul is outwardly the most vulnerable and broken of the two, but Randolph has been conditioned all his life to consider himself subservient to the task he was literally bred for. He would marry his best friend, produce offspring for the sake of the family line, and dread the day when he would have to pass his duty and his knowledge to his own child. He has never had a lover, only rushed, meaningless encounters where he can walk away, quickly and definitely.

As I said above, there are a couple of scenes that truly scared me¹, but the part where I felt the most anxious? Where I literally had to stop reading for a bit? When it seems as if Saul will be tricked into betraying Randolph. I just couldn’t bear to think that Saul would be used that way, after what he went through in the war–and against Randolph, who had already lost so much.

Angst, heart-squeezing angst, so very well done.

All the more so, because there is no wallowing, not from the characters, and not in the narrative. Things happen, you get up and keep doing what you can to help, to prevent further suffering and destruction.

This story has plenty of the unknown to scare you, but more than anything, it has heart, and a powerful, heartfelt love story between two broken and complex human beings who haven’t hoped for anything for a long, long time.

The world building is very solid, though by its very nature it’s still, well, arcane. There are a number of well rendered secondary characters, and enough left unsolved to make me yearn for the next title in the series.

Spectred Isle gets a 9.00 out of 10

~ * ~

¹ You may want to keep in mind that I don’t do horror, in reading or watching; however, I can listen to true crime podcasts, or read things like John E DouglasMind Hunter at night without losing sleep.

² Speaking of the British government, at one point, Saul briefly considered point out that the younger generation had a fair bit on its plate already, thanks to the decisions of old men. Indeed.

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4 Responses to “Spectred Isle, by K. J. Charles”

  1. Lori 09/08/2017 at 9:14 PM #

    Oh damn you Az. I’m starting to get quite the TBR pile and this one just made it to the top.

    • azteclady 09/08/2017 at 9:18 PM #

      I can’t be sorry.

      And I didn’t even mention the blink-and-you-miss-it shout out to Dame Christie in the last chapter!

  2. Carolyn 10/08/2017 at 5:11 PM #

    I don’t read much m/m, but K J Charles captured me with “Think of England” and I’ve been reading her ever since. There’s not one book she’s written that I haven’t liked.

    I think “The Magpie Lord” is still my favorite but the Green Men series threatens to overtake it.

    I follow her on FB; she and Pamela Clare set high standards for not only authors but everyone involved in bettering the human condition.

    As for this particular book, I need to read it again. I couldn’t flick the pages fast enough, and probably missed more than I’d like to admit. Agree completely with your review; you say it so well. 🙂

    • azteclady 10/08/2017 at 5:29 PM #

      Thank you!

      And you have the advantage here; I have at least four more of Ms Charles’ titles in ye olde TBR digital cordillera, including both The Magpie Lord and Think of England. I need to get to them soon.

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