My name is Octavius Septimus Stalk, but my friends call me Oss. I live in the City of Keys, a town of gears, keys, locks, and wonder. Our forefathers banished magic long ago, bolted the doors and locked everything up tight to keep people out and the town’s secrets in. Four Lock Lords control what information is left, and everyone else is left struggling to survive.
Despite what Thorne, my naïve lover, thinks, I was an orphan, but not a victim. When I walked the streets at the age of twelve, I learned fast where to steal the best food, how to use my daggers, and where to hide my would-be attackers’ bodies. No one suspected me of such violence. No one knew then or now that I have magic inside me.
Now, power hungry men intend to release the magic for their own benefit—at the expense of the rest of the city. We will stop them, even if Thorne must battle his own kin, even if I must reveal my hidden talents and the role I seem destined to play.
A mage in hiding becomes embroiled in a conspiracy of evil men who wish to release magic into a steampunk world for their own nefarious reasons.
This story is told in first person from Oss’s point of view. He’s a former street urchin and a thief who keeps his magical abilities secret because those who have it tend to vanish in the dead of night, as magic is banned and tightly locked away. Oss is now one of the city’s key keepers and also in an established relationship with Thorne, a city guard who comes from wealth and nobility (he’s related to one of the four Lock Lords!) and whose star is on the rise. The plot moves at a quick pace, so we’re mostly not bogged down, and there’s a good balance between witty dialogue, fast-packed action, tense and thrilling moments, and sensual scenes.
The characters, especially the main heroes, are three-dimensional, smart and fun. Oss is more of an anti-hero, reluctant to be cast in a heroic role to save the world, and he hasn’t told anyone how his magic allows him unlock any locks he comes into contact with. Oss’s boyfriend Thorne is more attractive, suave, and outgoing. He’s warm and kind and a bit naive but he doesn’t retreat from dangers or challenges, and he never abandons Oss which I really appreciated. Their scenes together range from warm friendship to hot and heavy. In fact, this starts out pretty sexy and sensuous, but beyond that there’s a good story to be told. The relationship conflict is pretty mild, mainly Thorne wishing for them to be a couple, and Oss doubting true love could exist in a dystopian world. But… there’s also the fact that both men harbor a big secret from one another, so the prophecy coming to pass forces them to be honest, which creates a schism they must resolve together.
Though there’s sex in this book, this is more an adventure in a steampunk and fantasy setting than a romance. The world-building is done extremely well, it’s detailed and intricate without being overrun by useless info or smothered with info dumps. The story’s background is set by a prophecy that speaks of magic being released into the City of Locks, magic and gears colliding, and our heroes end up caught in the middle of that strife. This is something of a genre mashup, so if that’s not your thing…. For myself, I thought the mix of genres–adventure, fantasy, steampunk, fairytales, and erotic romance–was intriguing and certainly unique. I will definitely be checking out the next in the series (hoping there is one to be had!). In short, the City of Keys comes to life like one of the characters, and I longed to know more, see and hear and feel more.
You get a complete story here, but this being only the opening salvo for a new series, several things are left in the air. Yet none of that hampered my enjoyment and satisfaction of reading this tale of a fascinating world and its people. I highly recommend this for everyone who likes their established couples sassy and super-sexy, their adventures thrilling and dangerous, and their fantasy world well crafted and full of delicious details and coloring outside the lines.