Published by: KJC Books
Genre: Historical paranormal romance
Reviewed by: Erin
What to Expect: A terrifying adventure in 1920s England featuring found families, finding meaning of life after the horrors of war, and a sweet love story.
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 fulfil 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.
Spectred Isle is tight, tense fun in post-WWI England, wrapping up supernatural horror with the horrors of war and the horrors of men who profit from war. This is a world that has been ravaged and is stumbling around, trying to find a new way forward. I haven’t been reading a lot of books this year because reading about a happy world seems too false and reading gritty realism seems too real, but I found that reading about “Well, awful things have happened – what now?” struck a good balance for me. This book is about people finding their way and building things — a life, a partnership, a romance, a ragtag family — in the wake of mass destruction.
I am going to get the obvious out of the way first thing: This book is extremely well-written and impeccably researched. There are a lot of reviewers who will praise Charles’ terrific, tight prose and rightfully so. I want to talk about something else for a second: KJ Charles is scary as heck.
This book scared the crap out of me. There is one scene that I don’t want to spoil, where she perfectly captures a sense of creeping horror with absolutely overtly scary happening, and that kind of atmospheric writing is just plain difficult. I’ve been reading Charles since the first Magpie book was published and seeing the progression in the subtlety of her writing is really delightful. And by delightful I mean that I was looking over my shoulder the rest of the day after I read it. She his so many horror beats so gleefully…well, there are some scenes that are really going to stick with me for a while.
Spectred Isle is ultimately a celebration of genre fiction. There are elements of horror and mystery and supernatural elements and folklore and, of course, romance. Genre explores what makes us human, our best and worst impulses, our urges to connect, and as a celebration of genre, I think this book works incredibly well on all those fronts. The horrible things that Saul and Randolph are fighting are terrifying, but they’re almost numb to these new terrors after the horrors of war. But of course this is genre fiction, where the goodness of the human spirit triumphs, so they don’t sink into despair, they turn their pain into passion, fight the monsters, and fall in love.
The romance itself is fairly conflict-free, providing a calm center to the rest of the action of the book. If you’re looking for a book with epic pining, this isn’t it. After some initial friction, once Randolph and Saul are on the same page, they get together fairly quickly and fall in love with little internal complication. If I have a complaint about the book it’s that the romance felt a little secondary. The romantic scenes provide respite for both the characters and the reader, which was a nice choice, but didn’t give me the massive, heart-swelling capital-R romance feeling that I usually get. It’s a minor complaint, because I’m honestly not sure a big, epic romance would have fit into this book. (I still wanted more pining, though.)
The sex, of course, is hot as hell. You can always count on KJ Charles for subtle insights into the nature of man and really explicit fucking. This book is no disappointment on that front.
I’m very excited to see where the rest of the series goes. There are hints and allusions to the larger world she’s building here, and I’m really looking forward to those being fleshed out. I can’t wait to learn more about this new cast of characters and to see where she takes us. I’m definitely along for the ride.
What you might not like: Descriptions of the horrors of war, internalized homophobia, some scary stuff.
What you will love: Terrific prose, scary but fun adventures, the 1920s setting, (motorcars! dinner jackets!) the joy of building relationships, found family, and really explicit fucking.
Erin is a full time contributor to Binge on Books. She is a voracious reader and reviewer who has been been reading romances since she stole them from under her neighbor’s mom’s bed while she was at work. You can read all her reviews here.
Connect with Erin on Twitter: @booksandjoe