Spellbound by Allie Therin (Magic in Manhattan #1)
Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.
Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.
Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.
PUBLISHER: Tantor Audio
LENGTH: 275 pages (9 hours 24 minutes)
GENRE: Fantasy, Romance
Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Closeted/Questioning Main Character(s).
SPELLBOUND is set in the 1920s United States during Prohibition (with the addition of magic), which means that alcohol features pretty heavily in the novel. Prohibition was a real period in U.S. history when alcohol was illegal, which in practice meant that everyone who drank did so covertly and generally with drinks of less quality. Many people still drank, especially the rich. Enter Arthur, the son of a congressman with progressive policies in a sea of xenophobia and racism. The bit about his father's politics seems means as a shorthand for why Arthur's personal character is so good. It's ultimately immaterial (at least in this first book), since a narrative about how he's accepting when his family is intolerant would have just as much of an impact on the story. His best friend is a Black woman, and he doesn't care that Rory is Italian, the son of an immigrant.
There are a few deliberate aspects of the characterization which are so blatant as to be either an instant turn-off or the reason someone might want to read this book. The first is the age gap between the two main characters. The dynamic between them is built on Arthur, the older, rich man, wanting to help Rory, the younger and quite poor man, whether or not he wants the assistance. The first place that this shows up is when they go to a speakeasy, and (lying that's he's twenty-six when he's actually twenty) Rory has his first drink of alcohol, and then several more. Arthur (in his late twenties) helps the drunken Rory to a safe place to sleep it off. Arthur seems to not understand the effect that his position and money has on Rory. He definitely thinks that he isn't being coercive when he tells Rory that he will cancel a particular debt if Rory does what he wants, but Rory feels very manipulated by this and like he doesn't have a choice. Arthur seems to think that it's all fine and not actually manipulative because he paid the debt before he knew whether Rory would do what he asked.
The switch from just kind of lusting after each other to being in love is very sudden. The beginnings of their lust for each other is even more sudden, Arthur loves Rory's curls from almost his first glimpse of him. Likewise, it does not take Rory very long to start enjoying Arthur's bossiness as much as it exasperates him.
My general frustration is that it has so many elements that I normally enjoy and so I oscillated between enjoying the banter and then being thrown out of the moment when the characters just push past something that needs to either not be a factor or get way more examination. I prefer stories where the characters originally think it can't possibly work, but they find out more about each other and their situations they realize that they can. In SPELLBOUND, Arthur thinks that they are close in age and that Rory is just an employee of the person he needs for his scheme. What's actually happening is that Rory is eight years younger, with life experiences which are few and generally traumatic in nature, and he's the one whose cooperation Arthur needs for his scheme. Over and over, Arthur dismisses the actual issues and power imbalances and worries about the ones which are misreadings of a situation. I don't have a problem with a gap age gap relationships in fiction where both parties are adults. One thing that kept bothering me was that the more they learned about each other the more it seemed as though the only think keeping everything okay is that the author wanted it to be fine. The other frustrating thing was how often Rory is described aesthetically and positively in terms of just how young he looks, especially in comparison to Arthur. It's like the story wants to have it both ways, both that Rory is a full adult and is mature enough to be in a relationship with Arthur, and that part of what Arthur likes is how much of a kid Rory still is. It also feels very unearned, because as much as Rory insists that he actually is mature, the story itself doesn't really bear that out. Late in the narrative, Rory gets very jealous when some women are flirting with Arthur in a social setting. Rory is the one pushing for the relationship to deepen and be more physical, but because he hasn't had any other partners he doesn't know what exactly he wants beyond more intimacy with Arthur.
Ultimately it's hard for me to enjoy a story that seems like a pile of red flags that the characters keep ignoring. Due to genre and story tone it'll probably work out, but this was a frustrating reading experience and I probably won't finish the series.
Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, alcohol.
Moderate CW for ableism, classism, xenophobia, forced institutionalization, confinement, blood, violence, gun violence, injury detail, medical content, slavery, torture, war, murder, death.
Minor CW for racism, child abuse, neglect, vomit, self harm.