Wormwood Summer

Title: Wormwood Summer (San Amaro Investigations Book One)

Publisher/Author: Kai Butler

Pages: 362pp

Price: $13.99 / $4.99

Parker Ferro is a changeling. A full-blooded fae, he was abandoned in the mortal world as an infant. Passed from one foster home to another — by humans who mistakenly assumed he was only half fae — he eventually found acceptance and love with a private investigator and a witch. From his adoptive parents, Parker learned all the skills he needed to survive …. Which is great, because a routine adultery case has turned into something much, much bigger. Someone is murdering magical beings around San Amaro and draining them of their magic. Two of the most violent wolf packs in the city are on the verge of a turf war. His adoptive sister Laurel is having issues with her coven, and their comatose mother Shannon is haunting her hospice. Oh, and the Summer Queen is calling in a favor from Parker; and, if he should fail, his life will be forfeit ….

I stumbled across Wormwood Summer while looking for new LGBTQIA+ fantasies to read. It looked promising, so I downloaded the sample. As soon as I finished the sample, I purchased the entire book, and I devoured it over several lunch breaks.

First, the world-building. Butler has created a society in which magic is (almost) fully accepted. Alchemists and witches and warlocks abound, werewolves flourish, vampires are to be avoided (and they’re actually kind of pathetic), and succubi fill the brothels. Fae are the exception. Fae are supremely powerful, arrogant, manipulative, not to be trusted, and essentially immortal; no one wants them running around San Amaro; as such, Parker keeps his true nature a secret. Magic is taught in university level courses and families that have a rich magical legacy are both powerful and wealthy. Even better, there are different kinds of magic: alchemists are disciplined perfectionists who draw on their own well of magic to create spells; witches pool their resources as a coven, and can throw together a spell like MacGyver. As Parker explains at one point:

I don’t mean that [witches] are more powerful or that an alchemist couldn’t pull down the house if he wanted to. But alchemists are a little like a sniper rifle. Everything has to be precisely so, the right circle, the right incantation, the precise amount of materials. When everything is just so, an alchemist will take the proverbial head off a guy with the precision of a marksman.

Witches are more like shotguns. They can take a handful of random stuff you find in your junk drawer and do a lot of damage. [….] I’d seen [Laurel] turn a handful of flour, a pair of scissors, and twine into a spell that took the head off a vampire. Like I said, my money is going to be on the witch who can turn an empty soda can into an IED.

The fae magical system created by Butler is neat. I’ve never seen anything like it. Fae magic is all about talking to the elements, to other beings, to creatures big and small. For example, at one point Parker is being chased by a murderous werewolf, so he bolts across a greenspace, hoping that he can convince the grass to carry his scent in the opposite direction.

… the grass was more amenable to my needs. It’s used to being crushed by people and cut by mowers. Grass is aware that its place in the universe is to be beaten down and beaten down, and when it’s finally riddled with weeds, grass knows that it gets replaced with younger, prettier grass. [….] All that is to say that grass is a salty, bitter collection of plants that made me feel like I was talking to a room full of Danny DeVitos. Will they help you? Maybe. Will they sell you out? Maybe. They’ll do whatever they want and screw you for asking.

Beyond the world-building, Butler has also created an intriguing cast of characters. Parker himself is clever and hard-working, but he is also given to self-flagellation. He’s a fae who was raised as a human; he has fae instincts and human morals. He is convinced that he is untrustworthy and that he will eventually ruin any relationship be being manipulative and under-handed.

Fortunately for Parker, he has people in his life who love him and who won’t allow him to undermine himself: his sister Laurel, who is the high priestess of her coven; his mother, who might be in a coma, but her soul is freely wandering the city; handsome San Amaro Detective Nick King, whose case gets tangled together with Parker’s, and their relationship quickly evolves from professional to more-than-colleagues. Even his next door neighbor, the quiet and mysterious Malcolm, who comes to Parker’s aid when their loathsome landlord threatens eviction.

All together, these ingredients make for a fun and entertaining read. If I have one complaint, it’s that I felt that the relationship between Parker and Nick evolved a little too quickly. They went from verbal sparring to gleeful flirting to sex in just a few pages; and in the middle of a dangerous, politically-fraught investigation. I think it would have made more sense if the flirting had continued up until the end of the book, when some celebratory we-survived-and-saved-the-world sex could be enjoyed.

Wormwood Summer is just the sort of escapist fare that I enjoy, and I can’t wait to read the next book. Definitely recommended to fans of TJ Klune, KD Edwards, Tal Bauer, Clara Coulson, and Morgan Daimler.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]

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