Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series continues with book two, Starcrossed, which begins shortly after the climactic events of the previous book (Spellbound) and finds Rory and Arthur facing off against a powerful and terrifying enemy intent on forcing Rory to unlock the secrets of an incredibly dangerous relic.
Starcrossed is a direct sequel to Spellbound, and the author doesn’t spend much (if any) time recapping the events of the previous book, so it doesn’t stand alone. That’s not a complaint per se – long recaps of ‘previously on…’ can be tedious and I’m glad Ms. Therin doesn’t go there – but on the other hand, it’s been a year since I read Spellbound, and I think I might have been able to get into Starcrossed more easily than I did had I re-read it first.
After Rory single-handedly prevented the destruction of Manhattan by using the powerful relic to which he is now bound, a ring that can control the wind, Arthur took him out of the city to the Kenzie estate in upstate New York, ostensibly to let him rest but also in hopes of getting to spend a bit more time with him. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really happened as Arthur’s family seems to have scheduled his every waking moment and his attention is almost always required elsewhere. Rory is disappointed although not surprised. He still finds it hard to believe that a man like Arthur – handsome, sophisticated and from a wealthy, well-connected family – could see anything in a scrawny, nameless nobody from Hell’s Kitchen, but he’s working on it.
A couple of days before they’re due to return to the city, Arthur receives news that a relic – a lodestone – is missing from the inventory of the possessions of the late Luther Mansfield (a business mogul who had traded in dangerous magical artefacts). Arthur is eager to get back to Manhattan, but is obligated to attend his brother John’s fundraiser (John is an alderman looking to a Senate run) where he encounters Mansfield’s lawyer, who is nervous and cagey and speaks vaguely of seeing inexplicable things before clamming up and telling Arthur to forget it. A day later, Arthur is disturbed when John tells him about a dream he’d had, of Arthur during the war in a situation Arthur has never revealed to anyone. Someone is using magic on his brother and, as later becomes clear, on Arthur, too, when his dreams, ones he’s had since the war, take on a grotesque, nightmarish quality they’ve never had before.
Magic induced dreams, missing artefacts, a relic imbued with the worst, most vile kind of magic, and the reappearance of old enemies all combine to propel the story towards a tense, exciting climax as Rory and Arthur confront a terrifying figure from Arthur’s past – and receive help (of a sort) from a most unexpected quarter.
As in the previous book, the setting of Prohibition Era New York is evoked really well, and I enjoyed meeting Jade and Zhang again, together with Sasha and Pavel – a powerful alchemist who has become trapped in his own magic – about whom I grow increasingly curious. The author sets up her different story threads well and draws them skilfully together, although the pacing lags a bit in the middle with the focus on the sub-plot concerning Arthur’s wartime ex, an English viscount whom Arthur’s family want him to escort around the city and accompany to a society wedding. Rory is jealous (of course) and (inadvertently) destroys things because he’s unable to control his growing magical powers, while Arthur is obviously very torn between his familial obligations and his desire to live his own life. He’s forever having to rush off in the middle of important plot developments because he has to be somewhere else, and although his frustration at this is palpable, it cuts down on his page time with Rory to the extent that I sometimes felt they spent more time apart than together.
I like both characters, and am pleased that while Rory has left some of his brattishness behind, he’s still a quick-tempered adorable grump who will absolutely take down anyone who threatens Arthur’s safety. I like his straightforwardness, his determination and his vulnerability, and that he’s slowly starting to believe that Arthur really does see him as someone worth loving. I appreciated that Ms. Therin doesn’t sweep aside the issues affecting their relationship, which aren’t simply limited to the fact that homosexuality was illegal at this time. The class difference between them is just as insurmountable a problem; outside their small circle of friends, Rory and Arthur need reasons to spend time together in a way that, as Arthur’s ex quite rightly points out, Arthur doesn’t need in order to spend time with a man of his own social class.
But for all of their lovely, understated declarations and passionate kisses, I don’t really get a ‘lovers’ vibe from these two. As in the first book, it’s kissing and innuendo and then fade-to-black – and while I absolutely support an author writing their story their way, I can’t help but feel there’s something missing in Arthur and Rory’s relationship as it’s written. Love scenes can be valuable tools to show the development of trust that comes with being sexually intimate with someone, and sometimes actions really do speak louder than words. I’m not saying there should be pages and pages of explicit sex scenes, and I certainly don’t think an author who isn’t comfortable writing sex should be forced to do so because it’s ‘expected’. I’ve read books where I wish the author hadn’t gone there and have felt the story would have worked just as well without. I just don’t think that’s the case here, and that the opportunity to create a deeper connection between the characters has been missed.
The plot is complex and carefully constructed, and the big set scene at the end is vividly depicted; the writing is generally good overall, although Ms. Therin has the habit of using awkward contractions, such as Arthur’d said his parents had it built or Harry’d given paid work to him – which look odd and unnatural on the page.
Even with the reservations I’ve expressed, Starcrossed is an entertaining read featuring likeable characters, a strongly evoked period setting and an intriguing storyline. If you enjoyed Spellbound, then you’ll probably enjoy this, too, and like me, will be looking forward to book three, Wonderstruck, next year.