As a fan of paranormal and historical romances, I was very intrigued by the new series by Alexa Egan that combines the two genres. Though this is the first in the series and not a great book, the series shows a lot of potential.
There is a very dark tone that pervades Demon’s Curse, with a prologue that dares to show our hero participating in a cover-up for a horrible act. Captain Mac Flannery is a man torn between two worlds. He is part of an ancient race of shifters known as the Imnada who closely guard their secret existence while trying to live as normal people in the England that grew around their clan holdings. During the Peninsular War, Mac and three other Imnada men answer the country’s call for soldiers, but while deployed in France one of them is exposed as Imnada and he slaughters an entire household of humans to protect the secret. Before dying the patriarch of the family puts a Fae curse on all four men that sentences them to a half-life, living as men during the day but forced to shift into their animal aspect at night. The curse is an aberration for the Imnada clan leaders and they exile all four men with the promise to kill them on sight if they attempt to return home.
During his 18 months in exile, Mac’s loyalty and self-identification as an Imnada are at odds with the life that he builds away from that society. His first allegiance was always to the race and it tears at his soul that he can never return to his home. He distances himself from the other three men in exile until tragically one of them is murdered, launching Mac into an investigation of the crime and putting him into close contact with Bianca Parrino, whom he believes may know some of their secrets.
Bianca Parrino has been quite content making a name for herself as a rising star of the London stage. She guards her personal secrets, hiding her past before coming to England and allowing people to assume more about her than is the truth to keep them from getting too close. When her good friend Adam is found murdered the gossip links them together as lovers and her as a possible murderess. Bianca tries to rise above the gossip, but the rumors start costing her the roles she covets, and being linked to Adam puts her in the line of sight of those who really did kill him. Her best chance to clear her name comes in the form of Adam’s friend from the war, Mac Flannery. He comes to her asking questions about Adam. Wary to trust Mac, Bianca instead offers a partnership where together they will look into Adam’s death. The investigation quickly uncovers some of the hidden truths about Adam’s links to Bianca, but also reveals to Mac a breakthrough Adam made in breaking the curse and finding a way back to their people.
I am not sure if the author is 100% successful in folding the world of the Imnada, Fae-borns, and normal humans into the love story between Mac and Bianca. I appreciate how the author tries to weave the idea of magic and shifters in England into the existing mythology of the country, using the Arthurian legend as a focal point for the conflicts between Imnada and the Fae-born Other. For a normal human like Bianca, that long ago war had been diluted into bedtime stories she remembered as a child. When she is shown that they are true Bianca is too accepting of the supernatural side of things, barely batting an eye when she realizes that Mac is a shapeshifter or that her best friend was Fae and could do magic. The paranormal aspect is treated almost as mundane or just accepted, when it should have been much more earthshaking for a practical character like Bianca to find her reality turned on its side. Also, Mac’s reaction to the curse seems slightly overwrought when compared to the other two men who live with its effects. He lets the curse define him and it is only when he finds someone else to care for that he finds the strength to crawl out from the shadow of self-loathing he had been living with.
Since Bianca was able to quickly set aside her questions of what Mac was, I too found myself ignoring the paranormal side of the story, focusing more on how they were able to heal one another from the pain of their pasts. I felt the story was at its strongest when it delved into Mac’s inner conflict between a possible salvation from the curse and a return to the Imnada fighting against the strong attraction and openness he finds when he is with Bianca. He starts to question the long standing doctrines of his race about love and marriage between the Imnada and humans. For Bianca, she allows herself to trust Mac unconditionally, something she has been unable to do since her abusive husband destroyed her faith in a man’s love. She understands how much he comes to care for her, but she isn’t blind to his need to return to his people. I liked how the romance developed slowly for both characters, with little touches or glances creating an intimacy that was reinforced by how well they came together to solve the problems of Adam’s murder or revealing the true villain behind it.
There is a great deal of potential for this series. Now that the world-building has been established I can see author Alexa Egan allowing herself the freedom to expand out and show how the looming threat will affect all supernatural races. I hope that in the next few stories there is more balance in how the men have lived with their curse and how the women they come to love will accept them. It is a series to keep an eye on!