The Reanimator's Soul by Kara Jorgensen (The Reanimator Mysteries #2)

An autistic necromancer, his undead lover, and the case that could destroy everything.

When a necromancer turns up dead, Oliver and Felipe think it will be the perfect, straightforward case for their new partnership. That is, until it leads them to a clinic promising a cure for magic, but they aren’t the only ones investigating the Institute for the Betterment of the Soul. Oliver’s ex, Ansley, is in town, and he’s certain the clinic isn’t the paragon of righteousness it claims to be. 

Forced to help Ansley infiltrate the institute, Oliver fears he is out of his depth in his work and in love as old wounds and bad habits resurface. But Oliver isn’t the only one struggling. Pulled between his cases, Oliver, and his daughter returning home for the summer, Felipe is drowning. Just when he thinks he finally has everything under control, a new reminder of his untimely demise threatens to throw his life into a tailspin once more. 

Between festering wounds and secrets, Oliver and Felipe’s lives stand upon a knife’s edge. To face the evil lurking behind the clinic’s genteel smiles, they must stand together or face the destruction of the place they call home. 

PUBLISHER: Fox Collie Publishing
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 310 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Minor Character(s).

THE REANIMATOR'S SOUL finds Oliver and Felipe adjusting to their new situation as lovers, work partners, and reanimation buddies. They can't be physically far apart due to Oliver's magical tether keeping Felipe alive, which means that in order for the much more social Felipe to have anything approaching the level of social involvement he would like to have, Oliver ends up leaving the lab much more often than is comfortable for him. In THE REANIMATOR'S HEART there was much more of a focus on difficulties that Oliver had when dealing with other people who expected him to be less autistic and more neurotypical. Not that they would’ve said those exact words, but that would’ve been the net effect of all their impossible requests to be someone other than himself. While Felipe had his own troubles, he was able to put them off for a while because he spent that whole book expecting to be permanently dead at the end of the week. In THE REANIAMTOR'S SOUL, Felipe has to get on with the business of living, which means he must deal with the relationships that he let languish for the sake of his work, thinking there would always be a "later". He’s beginning to understand, viscerally, that he can’t count on sticking around, no matter how much he would want to, which means he actually has to talk to his daughter, to his wife and her girlfriend, and have the hard conversations he’s been avoiding. 

Ansley, Oliver's ex-boyfriend, is a well-written, insufferable person. He's instantly hateable for the way he treats Oliver, as well as his general approach to pretty much everything in the book. I appreciate that while his personality is odious, he makes sense as a person (though definitely not one I would want to spend any length of time around). He's the Federal lead on the case they become involved with, which makes for some tricky moments as he tries to exert whatever control he can over the situation. I like that there's room for someone who sucks without making them fully a villain. 

THE REANIMATOR'S SOUL might make sense to someone who started here without reading the first book, since most crucial details are referenced in a way that can serve as either callback or explanation as necessary. As with most sequels, however, especially as this is the second book in the series, things will make much more sense to someone who has read THE REANIMATOR'S HEART. While most plot things are contained to this volume, a lot of character development is an extension of the growth Oliver and Felipe went through already, and Felipe's arc especially will be more resonant in context of how he was right after being reanimated. Felipe and Oliver are still the narrators, switching between them but not strictly alternating. For readers who had a long gap between reading each book, there's definitely enough detail to quickly catch them up without needing to re-read THE REANIMATOR'S HEART if they'd prefer to get straight into the new one. I like the story, I love the main characters, and I'm glad Felipe's daughter makes an appearance this time. 

One thing I appreciate about the setting of this historical fantasy novel is that the characters deal with anti-magic prejudice and that they live their lives in a way that implies they’ve had to deal with homophobia. That might seem like a weird thing to say, what I mean is that in a queernorm world where the anti-magic prejudice is shaped like homophobia, but there isn’t any homophobia in the story, that would seem like any anti-magic sentiment is purely meant to be an allegory. Given that magic, however marginalized, is usually portrayed in fantasy books as something that can cause harm, it doesn’t work as a direct allegory for queerness, or at least any value as an allegory gets complicated very quickly in a way that is outside the scope of this review. But, a world where there’s consistent prejudice against the strange, whether that's queer relationships or magical abilities, that feels like cohesive world building because it's a consistent understanding of social pressure. Felipe is in a lavender marriage, a thing where (queer) people who aren’t attracted to each other get married to escape social scrutiny or prejudice, but are free to pursue relationships of attraction elsewhere. This is is classically between a gay man and a lesbian woman, but can happen for other mixes of queerness. This is one of the more obvious bits of world building which implies some background level of social pressure and homophobia. There are other moments where queer characters obliquely refer to homophobia and its impacts on the shape of their lives. It then makes sense to me that in such a setting where magic does exist there would be anti-magic attitudes as well as queerphobia. Thematically these come together in a institution practicing conversion therapy to “cure” people of their magic through a variety of odious practices that start at abuse and frequently escalate to torture, or even murder. Just like in real-world conversion therapy, where many of those involved are queer themselves, some of the staff in this facility have magic just like what they are trying to stamp out of other people. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content.

Moderate CW for ableism, gore, blood, violence, medical content, medical abuse, conversion therapy, panic attacks, torture, murder, death.

Minor CW for sexual assault, forced institutionalization, alcohol, homophobia, pregnancy, child abuse.

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