Nothing has gone right for Colin Bliss, a young American Librivenator, since he arrived to London as a part of an international exchange program. First, he was met by Magister Septimus Marx, his immediate superior, and failed to make a good impression (or so he thought). Second, he fell hard for Anthony Leslie, a co-owner of Leslie’s Lexicons, the London branch of the Imperial Arcane Libraries. It was a big mistake – Anthony, who turned out to be a married man and a cheat, seduced Colin during just one dinner and dumped him two weeks later. The fact that Colin was actually working for Leslie’s Lexicons didn’t make the sting of humiliation and loneliness easier to overcome.
When Aengus Anstruther, the presul of the Museum of the Literary Occult in London, offered Colin an opportunity to get away from it all, looking for a lost ancient book full of potent spells called Faileas a’ Chlaidheimh (The Sword’s Shadow), finally it seemed something went right. A free trip to Scottish Western Isles, two weeks of well-paid holidays, a splendid occasion to prove your Librivenator skills – it was a sweet deal indeed, almost too good to be true. If only that obnoxious Marx wasn’t sent to Scotland at the same time, taking practically the same train…
I officially hate novellas and I am not so fond of romance, m/m or otherwise, it is known. Still the premise of this one caught my attention. How many m/m novellas you’ve read start with a poem by Thomas Hardy? How many of them allow you to immerse in the world of magical books and magicians dealing with those on a daily basis? It also didn’t hurt that the whole story was rather long – almost 150 pages in pdf format, practically a short novel. There was actually plenty of space to present all that enjoyable world build in its full glory. I admit at first those strange names like Librivenator, Librireddo or prosul needed some explanation (but hey, if you know a bit of Latin you’ll guess pretty fast what they mean). Fortunately the explanation was always provided by the narrator, Colin himself, a young gifted wizard with a sense of humour and a thirst for adventure in every possible meaning.
It also didn’t hurt that the other lead, Septimus Marx, the love interest of Colin, reminded me strongly of Severus Snape from Harry Potter novels. Why? Firstly let me notice that Mr. Lanyon must have had at least basic classic upbringing; mention the name ‘Septimus’ in a company of any classicist and they will add immediately ‘Severus’ to it – it was a name of a Roman emperor who lived and ruled in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. Then Snape and Marx shared the same tell-tale appearance and disposition: black, shoulder-length hair, slender but strong body, a bit spider-like but overall graceful, caustic character, brilliant, logic mind, a whiff of mystery concerning their real scope of duty. Of course poor blond Colin at first had to hate a bit our cagey Septimus because, once again like the HP Snape, Marx could be hardly called ‘Mr. Social Skills’.
Finally let me say that the background story about one powerful grimoire, a young sea witch called Swanhild and her aristocratic husband, Argo Urquart, added actually a lot to the main thread and was perfectly enjoyable, at least to me.
Still there is no such thing as a perfect novella – this one came close and yet it had several minor flaws. Firstly Colin’s infatuation with Marx reeked a bit of insta-lust. Secondly, even a 12-year-old, averagely intelligent child would tell Colin his mission was fishy from the very beginning; the same child would guess the ‘secret’ hiding place of that grimoire, most probably at first try. Thirdly I was never told what that Seelie Court elven lady was doing among humans (and I would like to know that much). Eh novellas…
Not bad for a novella but I would like a fully-fledged novel, featuring Colin, Septimus and all those delicious magic books in magical London, far better. Even with m/m romantic thread. If you were a fan of Severus Snape and you miss a bit of magic in your reads I recommend this one; still bear in mind that it is an adult fare, with sexually explicit scenes and adult language that may be considered offensive by some readers.