Title and Author: Arising series: Sons of Devils (book 1) and Angels of Istanbul (book 2)
Published by: Anglerfish Press (Riptide)
Genre: alternate history/romantic fantasy
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Fascinating “Age of Enlightenment with magic” fantasy world with well-crafted touches of horror and m/m romance.
Plot: Ten years ago, the island of Atlantis rose out of the sea, triggering mechanisms all over the world that made magic a genuine force once more. Now paranormal creatures are coming out of hiding and demanding their rights. In every country, scholars and scientists are scrambling to research and understand the occult so they can harness it safely. And all over the world, rulers and warlords are commissioning magical weapons they don’t understand and can’t control.
The Age of Enlightenment has become a race for dominance that human beings are no longer guaranteed to win. This is the perfect time for them to go to war with each other. Obviously.
British scholar Frank Carew is in Wallachia to study the magic generator on nobleman Radu Vacarescu’s land. There, his party is attacked by bandits and his friends are killed. Pursued by a vampiric figure, he flees to Radu’s castle for help. Unfortunately, this is precisely where the vampires came from. If allowed, they would feed unchecked and spread their undeath across the whole Earth, but Radu maintains a shaky control over them and keeps them penned in his tiny corner of the country.
As Frank recovers from his assault, Radu finds himself falling for the young man. But loving Frank and not wanting to lose him leaves Radu vulnerable to his demons’ demands. Can he bear to let them feed on the man he loves? Or must he give in to their blackmail and set them free to feast on his entire country?
Review: This review is for the complete two book series because I have the strong suspicion it was originally one long (550 pages) novel split into two for publication purposes. This is unfortunate, because the split has led to some elements important to the second bit being dropped in book 1 in a way that doesn’t entirely work, to provide a hook for book 2. I encourage those interested in reading this series to read the two volumes back-to-back.
Alternate history is a difficult genre to do well. It’s a form of fantasy that requires a good handle on the real history of the period, and a creative idea for why it’s a bit different to what actually happened. In Arising, Beecroft has both. We get a well-woven story set in Eastern Europe at a time when that was the melting pot (of site of conflict, depending on the week) of Christian and Muslim civilization. And the return of Atlantis, coupled with the return of magic, explains the departure from our timeline.
What really makes this book stand out is the atmosphere Beecroft conjures with these elements. The enlightenment setting gives the magic system a somewhat scientific tone, and it’s really interesting to watch the various magic-using characters take an experimental approach to working out how to use their newly-emerged powers. The mix of cultures also gives us an atmosphere that is sadly unusual in fiction: the Muslim and Christian characters do have a level of distrust with each other – unsurprising in an area and at a time where they’d been at war in recent memory – but we’re never invited to think that one is right and the other wrong. Bonus points, too, for pretty much the most uncivilized country in the narrative being England.
Beecroft also gives us an unbearably tense feeling to large parts of the narrative, primarily but not only through well deployed elements of supernatural horror. The vampire plot, and some body horror which features in book 2, are quite effectively creepy, and make the human elements of the romance and friendships at the centre of the narrative look even more important in contrast.
Further, the choices of the characters are really effectively constrained in a way that makes us understand all their motivations. Frank by his upbringing and self-hatred, Radu by his upbringing and the burden of his literal demons, Mirela by being Roma, Ecaterina by her gender, and Zayd by his duty. Beecroft has really carefully thought about why her characters might act the way they do, and it shows. Mirela and Ecaterina are also excellent female characters, with their own agency and motivations, who are not sacrificed for the happiness of the main male couple. This shouldn’t have to be notable but sadly is: too often in m/m women exist only as aides or barriers to the men getting together.
The book is beautifully written, too; Beecroft’s prose is a cut above the norm in m/m. There are, however, some issues with the way the plot is strung together. As noted above, the way the books are split interferes with the pacing in a way that doesn’t do much harm to book 2, but really does bog down the action in book 1. This is particularly a problem because the main plot driver in book 1 – Radu and Frank’s relationship – isn’t fleshed out quite enough in its early stages, meaning that I don’t entirely buy that Radu would do what he does to save Frank. All this said, I still very much recommend the book. There’s not much of this sort of fantasy with queer men and women at its core, or set in this part of the world, or written in such well-crafted prose. Don’t let the slack pacing at the start of book 1 deter you; persist and you will be rewarded with a truly creative story.
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: The romantic subplot between Radu and Frank is sweet but its initial motivation is not quite spooled out sufficiently, which is a problem given that it provides the primary driver for the rest of the plot. Pure romance lovers may also not like the fact that this is a fantasy novel first, romance second. Finally, as noted above, the pacing in book 1 is a little off, perhaps due to the split in the story.
What you will love: Beecroft is one of the standout prose stylists of the m/m world and these books are no exception: the writing is great. The fantasy world she creates is also really compelling, and something I want to see more of.
Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters. Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else?