Twisted Tome
Grade : A

Middle books in trilogies can often be disappointing, seeming to tread water between the set up in book one, and the finale in book three, but thankfully, Twisted Tome (Devastating Magic book two) is not one of those books! Vanora Lawless has followed up their fantastic début, Imperfect Illusions, with another fast-paced, compelling and high-stakes story that continues the overarching plot begun previously and combines it with some absolutely stellar character and relationship development while upping the stakes and setting up what looks likely to be a really exciting final instalment.

Note: Devastating Magic is a same-couple trilogy and Twisted Tome won’t work as a standalone, so readers are advised to read Imperfect Illusions first. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

When Twisted Tome begins, the small, specialist unit of skilled (magic-users) soldiers led by Captain Elliot Stone - and which includes his lover, Corporal Warren Sullivan - have been tasked with the rescue of a French soldier from behind enemy lines – something they’ve been doing regularly for several months. But when they arrive back at their safe house, they discover that this was no simple rescue mission; Lucien D’Aramitz tells them that the dangerous magical artifact (a grimoire) his family has guarded for centuries has gone missing – and so has his entire family. He and his friend, Gabriel Auclair, have been searching for information, knowing that whichever side has possession of the grimoire doesn’t matter because the type of magic it contains would ensure destruction on a massive scale, and no government can be trusted with its secrets. Elliot isn’t pleased to have been lied to about D’Aramitz; his orders are to return the rescued prisoner to the French authorities, but other motivations are clearly in play and he’s not about to hand over a man who has been held prisoner and interrogated by the Germans to people who are likely to do the same thing! To the best of his knowledge, they’ve rescued allied soldiers – not deserters – and he turns a blind eye when D’Aramitz and Auclair leave.

Their new commanding officer isn’t best pleased when he learns that the two Frenchmen have gone, but there’s no time to dwell on it – he has a new mission for Elliot and his team, one in which they will work with another small group of skilled soldiers. Elliot will be in overall command, but he’s dismayed to learn that the other team’s commanding officer is Captain Everett Astor, someone he’d once been in love with. As a boy, Elliot had become deeply infatuated with the slightly older Astor, ignoring various red flags over the years until, when Elliot was eighteen, Astor finally revealed himself to be a vindictive, manipulative bastard who never loved Elliot at all. And now, Elliot is being ordered to entrust the safety of his team to a man he knows to be an egotistical lying prick whose skill – he can skim a person’s thoughts with a simple touch – could make them all vulnerable to his spite and ambition. But the biggest challenge is going to be keeping his relationship with Sully under wraps because he knows that Sully’s instinct to protect him from the barbs and comments he knows Astor will be throwing his way will almost certainly give them away. Warning the team to be careful around Astor is tricky – having to work with someone Elliot feels they can’t trust is hardly likely to bolster their morale – but orders are orders. Their mission is to cross into Belgium in order to track down more of the vials of necromantic gas like the ones they’d retreived from the German labs last winter so they can be studied further.

As Elliot had predicted, Astor behaves like an arsehole when he realises his attempts to charm Elliot won’t work, but expecting it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. It was years ago, but Astor’s emotional abuse really did a number on Elliot, severely denting his self-confidence to such an extent that he has still not completely recovered. He already feels unsuited to the position he’s in - promoted to captain simply because he comes from a wealthy family and believing that men asked to put their lives on the line deserve something better than an inexperienced, would-be poet commanding them – so Astor’s snide remarks about their past and Elliot’s failures hit home, even though Elliot knows exactly what the other man is doing.

But he also knows that he’s no longer the love-struck boy he was, and although his confidence is sometimes shaken, he is determined that nothing will threaten the safety of his team. He cares for them all deeply, finding relief in their easy camaraderie and affection and thinking of them as much more than subordinates and colleagues; over the months of working together, they’ve become like family. And then there’s Sully, the man he’s come to love deeply and trust completely, the man who keeps him safe and sane, and for whom he would sacrifice anything – even himself – if it will keep Sully safe in return.

The author once again achieves a fantastic balance between plot and romance in the story, keeping the action moving at quite a lick, building tension and raising the stakes as the enemy’s new and truly horrific plan is revealed. We meet some new characters and get to see different types of magic, there’s an interesting sub-plot featuring a protective ghost, and the atmosphere – full of danger, fear and uncertainty – is pervasive without being oppressive, thanks to the pockets of humanity and affection that characterise the interactions between the members of the team, and the deep and abiding love between Elliot and Sully, who grow even closer in this book. They both wonder how they can ever be together back in the ‘real world’ – after the war – given their difference in social status, but there’s no question about the extent of their feelings for each other, and I love how well they communicate. Now everything is out in the open between them, they continue to build on that honesty and openness, and I was so pleased the author opted not to use the appearance of Elliot’s ex to drive some sort of wedge between them. Being at war, risking their lives day after day to fight heinous evil is surely enough conflict, and I liked that the author uses Astor’s presence to help Elliot find a new confidence in himself and his abilities, and to strengthen his relationship with Sully, rather than going for a boring and predictable Big Mis.

Elliot and Sully are such a great couple, strong and independent individuals who are stronger together, two men who are deeply and irrevocably in love, finding something worth fighting for in each other in the midst of one of the darkest times of recent history. As with Imperfect Illusions, it’s clear the author has done their research on the historical background, although as they say in a short afterword, the timeline in this book has started to diverge from history somewhat, thanks to the influence of magic.

With vivid characterisation, strong worldbuilding and a brilliantly twisty plot, Twisted Tome is another cracking read full of action, nail-biting tension and swoonworthy romance that captivated me from start to finish. I can’t wait to read the third and final book in the Devastating Magic trilogy when it comes out in 2024.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : October 27, 2023

Publication Date: 10/2023

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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