Saul Lazenby lost all his credibility during the Great War, and now works for a wealthy eccentric gentleman who sends him to various sites on “hunches” about magic. At each of these places, he encounters the same man, and then something strange happens.

Randolph Glyde has every reason to suspect Saul of sinister intentions. After all, he’s an arcanist, and he knows that magic is real.

It makes sense for them to trust each other, but that isn’t a virtue that has ever come easily to either of them, but they’re going to have to team up because, as I mentioned, magic is real, and there’s something evil afoot.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help seeing parallels with The Chronicles of Narnia—not in the overt parallels with Christianity, but rather to the existence of “deeper magic”:

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time.

As I mentioned, Randolph is an arcanist—the last in a long line of arcanists—and there are numerous references to “old and deep” and “deep secrets”. This supports Randolph’s family history that stretches back centuries.

Magic presents in curious ways here: there are overt gestures like sudden events, but there are also subtle hints to folkloric curatives, rituals that have been part of local culture being part of a bigger system of magic than everyday people realize.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this book uses the “enemies to lovers” trope, but only because Saul and Randolph don’t have the luxury of longstanding mutual animosity; the threat develops so quickly that they have no choice to team up, and so they never get any farther than mutual suspicion.

The attraction, however, develops before the trust, and that’s certainly a delightful dynamic. Oh, they’re also prevented from acting upon said attraction by magic.

Would it be gauche to say that they were cockblocked by magic?

Whoops, I just did.

This is not the only book that Charles has set during the aftermath of The Great War, and it’s such an interesting time period to work with. Neither Saul nor Randolph had “a good war”, but for different reasons. That’s something they have to come to terms with, as their war experiences have shaped their current circumstances.

I would absolutely recommend Spectred Isle. KJ Charles is one of my favorite authors, and while I’ve read most of the back catalog, I’ve been rationing out the unread titles for metaphorical rainy days. Needless to say, these past few months have seen an inordinate amount of rain, so this book proved to be a source of much-needed escapism. I want to finish by saying that I listened to the audio version of this book and Ruairi Carter did a wonderful job with the narration.

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