Wonderstruck is the third book in Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series of paranormal romances set in 1920s New York, and is the best of the bunch, boasting a high-stakes, fast-paced plot, engaging characters, strong worldbuilding and a central relationship that has come on leaps and bounds since the first book.
When I reviewed the previous book (Starcrossed), I said I wish I’d thought to re-read Spellbound (book one) first, as there is very little recapping and I was at a bit of a loss to start with. Wanting to avoid the same again, I listened to the audio version of Starcrossed shortly before beginning Wonderstruck and I’m pleased I did, because I had no problems getting into the story this time around. (Which is to say that I’d advise anyone interested in reading Wonderstruck to do a bit of backtracking first!). As this is a series with overarching plot-threads, there will be spoilers for the other books in this review.
When Wonderstruck opens, we find Arthur Kenzie in Montreal with his close friends, paranormals Jade, a telekenetic and Zhang, who can walk on the astral plane. They’re there searching for a way to destroy a dangerous supernatural artefact, a pomander created using the most vile magic in existence and which has the ability to enslave non-magical minds. Arthur has been away from New York – and from his lover, powerful psychometric Rory Brodigan – for a month and is no closer to his objective than when he started – and the lack of progress and time away from the man he loves is really trying his patience. He knows it’s best for Rory that he stays put in New York, but he misses him dreadfully.
The news that there is to be a secret paranormal exhibit at the upcoming world’s fair in Paris offers some hope, however. Such an exhibit might well draw the attention of someone with the knowledge to help them destroy the pomander – but a trip to Paris will mean more weeks, maybe months away from New York, and bringing Rory to Europe just isn’t an option. Baron Zeppler, the telepath who is bent on harnessing the power of magical relics for his own nefarious purposes, is now undoubtedly aware of Rory’s existence and of the power he can wield through the Tempest Ring and his psychometry – and Arthur is determined to keep Rory as far from his evil machinations as possible.
But of course, the best laid plans never pan out. Arthur, Jade and Zhang return to New York so that Arthur can be with Rory on his twenty-first birthday, and after another failed attempt to destroy the pomander, they realise they’re going to need help. None of them likes the idea of approaching Gwen and Ellis – the former wartime best friends of Jade and Arthur who betrayed them in Spellbound; but after Gwen saved Rory’s life in Starcrossed, they’ve realised they have a common aim in wanting to neutralise the pomander and put Baron Zeppler out of commission. Working on the principle that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ (sort of), and realising that it’s no longer safe to leave Rory in New York, the four of them – Arthur, Rory, Jade and Zhang – sail across the Atlantic and head for London.
What follows is a tense and exciting romp that kept me reading until well past my bedtime! With Arthur hiding a terrible secret of his own, and the line between friend and enemy becoming blurred, the story moves at full pelt into the nail-biting finale, wherein our heroes are forced to battle the vilest magic of all.
Amid the thrills and spills, Arthur and Rory find time for a few tender moments, and I have to say that Ms. Therin has at last managed to convince me of their genuine attachment and absolute devotion to one another. Previously, I found it difficult to see what a wealthy sophisticate like Arthur could see in the prickly, much younger Rory (the age gap is about eight years) who, when they first met, behaved like a complete brat towards him. Here, however, I finally bought their connection, and even though their relationship is still beset with problems of communication and trust, they feel really solid as a couple. As in the previous books, the author doesn’t sweep aside the difficulties faced by two men attempting a romantic relationship in the 1920s, difficulties which are compounded by their vast difference in social status. One of the major sticking points between them has always been Rory’s refusal to accept Arthur’s help or to rely on him in any way. By now, Arthur is finding it a bit wearing, his heart heavy because he feels that Rory’s reluctance to lean on him is because Rory has always got one foot halfway out the door. Here at last, Rory starts to realise how his attitude is hurting the man he loves; he admitted in the last book that he would want to help Arthur were their situations reversed, but he still wasn’t able to make any concessions. Now though, he’s grown up enough to realise it’s not weak to ask for and accept help, and I was impressed with the amount of character growth Rory exhibits in this book.
The author’s research into Prohibition Era New York is excellent, enabling her to skilfully weave the threads of her own magical world into the historical background, putting the reader squarely at a table in Jade’s speakeasy or inside Rory’s dingy room at his rat-infested boarding house. I noted – with a smile – that she chose an International ship for the gang to travel across the Atlantic so there would be booze available!
On the downside, I did find some of the information about the relics a bit confusing, and while Zeppler is definitely eeeevil, I was never completely clear as to why he wanted to amass All the Relics and All the Magic. World domination, I suppose, but that’s rather unoriginal! There were a few places it seemed there was just too much going on and too many characters on page – although I admit that might be more a ‘me’ problem than a ‘book’ problem – and a couple of plot points appeared and then disappeared, never to be seen again.
But I enjoyed Wonderstruck despite those quibbles, and was completely caught up in the story. A compelling combination of vivid historical setting, memorable characters, fascinating magic and a heartfelt romance, It’s a fine way to end this unique series.
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