Author ~ Jane Kindred
Publisher ~ Sanhain Publishing
Published ~ 15th March 2016
Genre ~ Historical/Fantasy M/M Romance
It takes a con to expose a con. But this con could strip their secrets bare.
Framed for his twin sister’s murder, Sebastian Swift has been kept drugged in a mental institution since age thirteen, aware of only one horrible fact—every night in his dreams, he drowns.
After a freak storm frees him, Sebastian learns the truth. His guardian, Emrys, has been siphoning off his inherited magical power over the waters of Cantre’r Gwaelod—one gruesome vial at a time. And the man’s bastard son, Macsen, has been raised in his place. Determined to find his twin’s killer, Sebastian assumes her identity.
Macsen Finch isn’t about to give up his guise as the young earl—and not just because of the fortune. His cousin’s return from the dead threatens Macsen’s own efforts to undermine his father’s evil plan. Yet he can’t deny his inexplicable attraction to the imposter.
Acting on their mutual desire puts them both at the mercy of a madman’s wrath. To stop Emrys from stealing his power, Sebastian will have to learn how to use it—and whom he can trust.
Warning: May contain copious exchange of fluids, men in corsets, and dirty dancing. Apply liberally before bedtime.
Historical fantasy where magic mingles with the realistic depiction of the past is probably almost my favourite genre. There’s so much that can be done with it, so many opportunities, and when I saw that this one was set in Wales in the Cantre’r Gwaelod I hit send on the ‘Me, me, please, I want to do this one’ email so hard I nearly broke my finger.
For those of you who don’t know the legend of the Cantre’r Gwaelod, it refers to a stretch of the coastline in Cardigan Bay in West Wales. A magical well was allowed to overflow by its guardian OR two brothers were responsible for the care and maintenance of a levee that held back the sea but the sluice gates were left open but in either case the country was drowned. The first written account dates to the 13th century but the story is much older. Welsh memories are long – recent archaeological finds prove that the lost land was last inhabited 4 to 5 thousand years ago.
So a fantasy set off the coast of Wales, working on the premise that The Lost Land was magically separated from our world long years past and has progressed to a quasi Victorian, or maybe late 18th century, level of technology. However, it is possible to pass from one land to the other with the right magic. The land is ruled most harshly by an Earl, one Sebastian Swift, assisted by his uncle, Emrys. But right from the start we know that this is all lies. The real Sebastian has been shut up in a mental hospital, All Fates, since he was 13 years old and was convicted of murdering his twin sister, August. In All Fates he is abused by the guards, both physically by repeated ‘drownings’ in ice water – a gruesome harking back to practices in many ancient Bedlams – and also sexually by guards and by other patients. At twenty-one now, Sebastian accepts it as his lot – a truly vile situation. But one night there is a terrible storm and Sebastian follows the phantom of his dead sister from the broken asylum to a place of ‘safety’. Here he is offered a chance to regain his inheritance, in return for brusque sexual favours, by a group of thieves lead by a con-man called Sven. Sebastian assumes the attire and appearance of his dead sister, presents himself to his family and realises that the new ‘Sebastian’ is actually his uncle’s illegitimate son, Macsen Finch. He also discovers that the ‘drownings’ at the asylum were not accidental but a magical means of drawing off his power over the waters of the Cantre’r Gwaelod, which had become a precious commodity that Emrys is using to accrue even more power to the Swift name. With the help of the aggressively avaricious Sven and his ghostly sibling, Sebastian has to try to win over Macsen, or defeat both cousin and uncle to regain his birthright.
So far so good. It’s a terrific, scary gothic set up. But, oh my, was it confusing. I had no real objection to the swapping from first person in the chapters narrated by the real Sebastian to third person where the narrative followed Macsen. That made available a lot of details that Sebastian couldn’t have known about but it did give the book an odd cluttered feel. Also two characters called Sebastian and two called August, depending on point of view, brought me up short on several occasions, and on many others I was left floundering due to lack of information why people were doing things, some of which seemed really daft. Victorian attitudes to women and to men who were perceived as less than manly were pretty vile and can be accepted in the context of the time, but I did find it very hard to accept Sebastian’s meh reaction to continual rapes and attempted rape. I don’t think that’s too strong a word. He was abused regularly as a child in the asylum, Sven gave him an either or situation where the ‘or’ would have led to a return to captivity, a ‘suitor’ of August tried to help himself and the method of drawing off Sebastian’s magic, which involved the penetration of mouth and throat with a glass tube, was just horrifying. Sebastian’s passivity which would be understandable with that background of abuse and neglect contrasts with how incredibly well-educated and competent he is and how effortlessly he assumes the role of his sister. In later parts of the book there are excursions to modern Wales where the wonders of modern technology are coped with without turning a hair – and I can tell you from experience that the Welsh railway system isn’t that easy to navigate even for people who speak modern Welsh or English, let alone for those who speak a diverse archaic dialect. Also we haven’t had one pound notes in the UK since 1988.
I guess that this will be a case of your mileage may vary. I am perhaps hampered by not being able to just roll along with the story. If it had been set in – I dunno – Northumbria I might have been less picky about the fine details. If I was a reader more interested in the angsty sex it might have pleased me. If I had liked the protagonists a little bit more it might have helped. As it is I wasn’t a happy reader and there were points where I considered giving up. But I didn’t so I’m giving it 2 stars for the idea and the setting and another one for the lovely detail of sitting in the dark due to having forgotten about light switches.