Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think we can safely establish I live under a rock insofar as knowing when books come out. This particular book came out well over a year ago and I finally heard about it at Rainbow Con. I’m glad I heard the author speak and her eloquence convinced me to check out her work. I liked Widdershins for many reasons including the solid writing, charming characters, interesting mystery component, and that it’s a fantasy historical set near Boston instead of London. I know this book has received rave reviews from a lot of people but the second half of the story dragged for me. I much preferred when the relationship development was mixed with the mystery instead of focusing on the two men exploring sex while the whodunit languished. However that compliant was overcome by my reading enjoyment and I’m looking forward to continuing the series with hopefully more focus on the actual mysteries to come.
Percival Whyborne is a language scholar working at a local museum and trying to go through life as unnoticed as possible. Unfortunately for him he’s assigned to help ex-Pinkerton agent Griffin Flaherty with a cypher pertaining to the case of a murdered man. With Whyborne’s skill at codes and languages, he soon becomes a valuable asset to the investigation. However that’s all Griffin wants from the man. The two have undeniable chemistry and Griffin may just be the one to help Whyborne learn to live again. Before they can explore a real relationship though, a secret cult threatens to destroy not only what the two men are building but also potentially the entire world.
Set in the fictional town of Widdershins, Massachusetts, this is the first book of what has become a series. Easily it could have been a stand-alone book, but the partnership between the two main characters is delightful and clearly translates into further adventures. The historical setting is nicely drawn with enough details to feel fleshed out but not overwhelming. I would have liked considerably more world building with the fantasy and magical elements introduced as the information offered felt too spread out and sparse to come together in a cohesive pattern. I appreciated what was included but more background would have led to a fuller understanding of the rituals and meanings. Playing on the familiar historical setting helped create a fun atmosphere and the fantasy elements were an appreciated touch but I did feel the lack of solidly created world.
Whatever may be lacking in the world building definitely was made up for with the charming and engaging characters. Whyborne is the first person narrator and he swept me up in the story from the very beginning. He’s appealing and charismatic in his own way while contrasting with Griffin’s obvious charm and affable nature. Together their fun dialogue and seamless working relationship makes the story fly by quickly. There were a few moments when Percival could have gone too morose but the restraint and nuance to his character really shone through. Griffin makes an excellent compliment and foil and they are one of the more interesting couples I’ve read. I’d almost say adorable but they’re not cutesy. They simply fit extremely well together and I liked how their strengths and weaknesses played off each other.
Beyond the likable characters, the mystery is well crafted. It dominates the first half of the book to my delight and offers a strong basis for the plot. Surrounding the interesting mystery the relationship is allowed to grow and flourish naturally. It’s at the halfway point where I started to struggle with the book slightly. Here the couple gets together and the focus turns from the mystery with a relationship within to the men having sex and the plot stalling. The relationship didn’t need the extra focus on sex as the emotional component was clearly established and only growing deeper. The added sex scenes were fine but I thought almost too many in the small amount of space. There were several scenes put back to back which is what makes it seem like a lot when no doubt there aren’t that many considering the length of the book. I would have preferred the mystery to continue with the relationship as an integral but not dominant part. In comparison, The Magpie Lord managed to combine the relationship and magical mystery components better without one or the other taking over.
That said, Widdershins has a lot to recommend it. The main couple is delightful and the writing is engaging and absorbing. Although I could put down the book on several occasions, I did enjoy reading it and always looked forward to picking it back up. The writing style is warm and appealing and I’m curious where the series will go. Oh since there’s so much talk about negative women characters in the genre, I did want to mention that Christine is well crafted and she’s a great supporting character. I look forward to her hopeful inclusion in future books. Although this is clearly a historical book I think the story would appeal to a wide range of readers and even contemporary fans. It’s one I would read again and easily recommend.