Rosie Danan proves once again to have a real knack for crafting intriguing storylines with deeply complex characters that feel both wonderous and real, and in her latest novel, she pairs a tenacious expert in the occult with a wary archaeologist in need of professional redemption. Add a cursed Scottish castle to the mix, an ancient magic with its own cryptic agenda, and the result is downright spellbinding. I loved this book before I even read it, but I never expected it to become one of my favourite reads of the year.
“I’ve seen enough people broken by that curse in body or mind over the course of my lifetime to know that land doesn’t want to be owned and the curse ensures it won’t be.”
Vanquishing the occult has been a Rhodes family talent for many a generation, passed down from one Rhodes woman to the next through shared know-hows and storytelling, but for Riley Rhodes, curse breaking is also a business. Her latest assignment has taken her to a small village in the Scottish Highlands, and to a dilapidated castle plagued by a centuries-old spell. With curse breaking being the much needed yet often misunderstood practice that it is, Riley hopes that taking down a notorious curse would win her acclaim and the credibility that she so desperately wants, and maybe even lessen the loneliness that comes with a calling such as hers.
She loved curse breaking, critics be damned. But her calling came at a cost. It meant she was alone. Not just here, so far from home, but in life. Always removed. Othered.
Following in the footsteps of his famous father, Clark Edgeware wishes nothing more than to carve out a name for himself as a respectable archaeologist, but a recent scandal has forced him to have to rebuild his professional reputation from the ground up. He sees his assignment at Arden Castle as the first step on his road to redemption, and he won’t let anyone—not even a sexy charlatan—make a mockery of his work again.
She was a trap, perfectly set, designed for his undoing. But Clark wasn’t an animal. He wouldn’t fall for the honeyed illusion of her.
They agree to stay out of each other’s way, but as the curse begins to throw them together any chance it gets, forcing them to face off against dangers that appear to be a lot more than mere accidents, Riley and Clark grow closer and closer, and their simmering attraction quickly boils over into deep, steamy passion. But no matter how much they let themselves be open and vulnerable with one another, or how deep they burrow beneath each other’s defences, Riley and Clark remain at odds even while they’re tearing each other’s clothes off. Because, to Riley, Clark is just one more person who thinks she is a fraud, and the more he doubts her abilities, the more determined she is to prove him wrong. And, to Clark, Riley is chaos personified, the very thing standing between him and a chance at salvaging his reputation.
“What do you plan to do with me?” Clark reached between her legs and pressed the rough ridge of his knuckles against the thin inseam of his sweats.
“Take you apart.”
Both of them have something to prove, neither of them are willing to back down, but when Riley realises that the curse won’t be broken until someone fulfills an ancient vow, she enlists Clark’s help because, deep down, she can’t help but hope for him to believe her.
She carried his love for her in her chest. As if she’d swallowed a sun. And all she could think was I hope it’s the same for him. That he doesn’t just hear the words, but that they stay somewhere safe behind his ribs—a light that doesn’t burn out.
A mischievously charming hellion and a repressed British academic facing down an unknowable power while helplessly falling in love might read like a tropey archetype, but there is nothing about this story or these characters that is in any way hacky or expected or too over-the-top. Rosie Danan builds her stories on strong characterisation and convincing depiction of romantic relationships, and even with a paranormal thread lacing through them, human emotion remains the main building block of all her stories. Funny, sad, spicy, tender, exciting, hopeful—this book is the whole package, but to me, its true beauty lies in the fact that behind all the fantastical song and dance, it’s really about two people wishing for someone to see and love and accept them for who they truly are.
As it turned out, sometimes what you needed was someone who brought out the worst in you.