He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.
Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.
The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.
With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.
Love makes monsters of us all.
This was a book that wasn’t on my tbr at all. I didn’t know it had bisexual rep which would have made me more interested and the fact that it was a gothic mystery fantasy didn’t feel like my cup of tea. But I had a prompt to read a book with the enemies to lovers trope for a readathon and this seemed like the perfect choice. And luckily it turned out to a good one.
I have no clue why but I was under the impression that it was a novella and didn’t realize until I was part way through that it was a full length novel, especially when I saw that while the pacing was good, there was a lot to explore and I couldn’t expect it finish below 200 pages. Then I relaxed and enjoyed the book much better. The author builds up the mystery very slowly and uncovering the truths was quite a thrilling experience. And as I’m not used to gothic settings, I was fascinated by Colwick Hall which was creepy and scary, and I could feel the dread right alongside the characters. The magic system also seemed pretty cool but as there was only one POV, we can only get to know the main character’s powers very deeply. Also this world was an interesting combination of magic, science and technology which is always fun to explore. As the main character’s magic is healing, the author doesn’t shy away from depicting blood and gore, but it felt was quite realistic from the story perspective. And while I truly couldn’t predict how this story could have a proper happy ending in just one book, the author does a wonderful job of wrapping up the main storyline but also leaving it to our imaginations about what might happen next … and there’s truly a lot that we can envision.
This story really does justice to the enemies to lovers trope. Wren and Hal are not only from two kingdoms which have been at war for centuries, even their roles are completely opposite – while Wren has been a combat healer, Hal was a ruthless killer. So it mustn’t have been easy for the author to convince us that these two can bridge these differences, but the way the author develops this relationship is chef’s kiss. It starts off combative, with verbal barbs and banter, but their forced proximity and having to depend on each other forces them to see each other in a different light. Wren has always been impugned for being impulsive and kind and she feels guilty about it, but Hal’s appreciation for her kindness lets her realize that she is a good person. And Hal who has been disillusioned after years of fighting and killing in a mindless war, understands through her kindness that he is still redeemable and can save his country from more unnecessary devastation. It’s truly excellent character development, with excellent chemistry between the two and I thoroughly enjoyed their dynamic.
I wouldn’t want to mention who the villain is because why spoil it, but I loved how the author made them three dimensional – someone who craves attention and wants more of it, is obsessed with magic, and wants his country to be on the top. They are a not a mindless villain and while their intentions may be patriotic, the methods are truly mad and I enjoyed the slow unraveling of their true character. Una is another side character whose deep friendship and love for Wren has a lot of significance in the story, and while I didn’t always like her mindless dedication to following orders as well as putting down Wren for being emotional and kind, I could still see how they both valued each other deeply. Isabel is obviously a very important person within the story and but I thought we didn’t really get to know her.
Overall, this was a fascinating standalone fantasy which I had a good time reading. If you love gothic settings or the enemies to lovers trope in your fantasy books, then I promise you that you’ll find this book to be just what you might love. The audiobook is also narrated quite well and I had fun switching back between the audio and ebook. I know that the story is complete, but if the author ever decides to expand this world, I would be very interested.