Shadowbound by Bec McMaster
Series: Dark Arts #1
Publication Date: May 8th 2016
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When a powerful relic goes missing from a secret society that dabbles in the occult, Miss Ianthe Martin is charged with finding it at all costs. She needs help, but all clues point to someone on the inside being the thief. The only sorcerer she knows that can't possibly be involved, is the very man she saw locked in Bedlam a year ago...
The mad, bad, dangerous Earl of Rathbourne.
When the seductive Miss Martin appears in his Bedlam cell, Rathbourne fears he's finally lost his mind. The devilish sorceress played a hand in his incarceration, and now she comes asking for help? Perhaps she should begin by begging for mercy...
But Ianthe's offer of freedom is one he can't refuse, although he has a clause of his own to add. She may bind him with her power–the only way to still the demons haunting him–but for every day spent under her command, the nights will be his... to wreak delicious revenge on her willing flesh.
Shadowbound is the first book in a new series from McMaster, but instead of steampunk London, this time we have a magical London. I love historical magical series about fighting a world-ending evil, so while this particular book had some faults, I am still 100% here for the series.
At the start of the book, Lucien, the Earl of Rathbourne, is locked away in Bedlam. To say he’s a physical and mental mess would be an understatement, and the time in Bedlam has taken it’s toll. For various reasons, Ianthe needs his help, though, so she goes to get him out. He has vowed revenge against her because she was the one who captured him, but he knows she’s his only ticket out of Bedlam, so he agrees to be magically bound to her temporarily. The pair have to find out who stole a magical artifact that just might lead to the end of the world. You know, NBD.
I enjoyed both Lucien and Ianthe as characters. If you like broody, damaged heroes, Lucien will tick those boxes for you. It’s not my favorite trope, but I liked that Lucien a) has legitimate reasons to be damaged and b) develops some self awareness and realizes that others have had some bad shit in their lives too. (But if you like damaged heroes, just WAIT till you get a load of future uber-damaged hero Sebastian. We meet him and his heroine Cleo in this book, and their story is heartbreaking already.) Ianthe is perhaps a little less memorable, but still fun to read about. She’s magically powerful and very, very capable. She has a lot of secrets, and you can see the stress of juggling them all wears on her, but she is determined to keep them to protect those she cares about.
This book is sexy, but the sexy premise felt forced to me. As part of his agreement to magically serve Ianthe and get out of Bedlam, Lucien basically demands sex. I get that he didn’t have a lot of bargaining power, but the way he decides to get his revenge is by…giving her really good orgasms? You show her, Lucien! The book also then has to go out of its way to stress that Lucien would not really have forced Ianthe and that she was totally on board, so I guess it was just some elaborate bluff on his part? To me the premise felt like it was supposed to add some kind of dark edginess, but instead it was just unnecessary. Ianthe was into Lucien and didn’t need the artificial set up to have sexual tension. I also didn’t love that Ianthe held onto her secrets so long. I understand her motivations and don’t necessarily think she was wrong, but the problem was it created an imbalance in her relationship with Lucien. She actually never chooses to tell him her secrets until her hand is forced near the end, and then it’s all action until the conclusion. I needed to see more genuine trust build between the two.
Because this is a first book in a very complicated world, it suffers from a lot of info dump. There are tons of names, places, and rules that get thrown at you. The magical system isn’t really explained, which is ok because it clearly makes sense to the characters, but I did want to know just a little more about how the magical world relates to the “real” world of historical London (magic users don’t seem particularly trusted by the normals, but they all live together).
Despite my issues with this book, I loved the world and the premise of the series. Book 2 is out already and I’ll definitely be picking it up.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5