Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival.Series: Deal with a Devil
But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.
Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due.
Published by Riptide Publishing on November 3rd 2014
Genres: Historical Romance, LGBTQ Romance, Paranormal Romance, Romance
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I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.
When I saw that Cornelia Grey had written a full length novel as part of her Deal with a Devil series, I requested an eARC at once. I loved her Devil at the Crossroads novella and I was looking forward to the chance of reading some more of Farfarello, the demon from that little book. I wasn’t disappointed much. Farfarello was indeed in this novel as the main deal-weaver and I did get to see him a few times throughout, even getting to see a little more character development behind his motives for the particular deal he made with Jesse, one of the main characters. But, Fafarello wasn’t the main character. Maybe later on in the series, he’ll get his own time to completely shine, but for now I got to enjoy reading about Gilbert and Jesse and I’m okay with that.
The story focuses on Gilbert Blake, a real magician with actual powers (not some two-bit hack illusionist who couldn’t conjure a feather without smoke and mirrors) and the mess he gets himself into because of said powers. Gilbert is a scam artist who grew up on the streets and uses his ability to win at cards or anything else that a person could place bets on. He’s a handsome, smooth talker, and for the most part leads a simple, if sometimes hectic, life, due to the occasional running from people who want to lynch him for being a cheat. One one such evening, he finds himself running not only from the mob he cheated, but also from the goons of a gang leader called Count Reuben, who owns half the city. Count Reuben is the Big Bad of the story, but I’ll get back to him later. Gilbert manages to bump into Jesse (the ringmaster of the Circus of the Damned) and, in order to escape getting lynched, joins the circus.
This is where the deal with the devil comes in. Joining the circus means you’re in for life and when you die, your soul is forfeited to eternal damnation in Hell. Well, only if Jesse doesn’t fill the empty space with someone new within 24 hours. If he fills the space, the souls of those who’ve died just linger in limbo and everyone still performing in the circus currently gets to stay alive. Unfortunately for Gilbert, he doesn’t quite grasp the gravity of the deal he’s made with Jesse and he tries for a while to get out of it by running as far as he can from the circus. Too bad every time he falls asleep he wakes up back at the circus. He does eventually realize the futility of running and accepts his fate, and starts to make a home for himself in the circus. He and Jesse form an attachment and Gilbert even performs a magic act in the circus show. But then there’s that pesky problem of Count Reuben, and also Jesse’s deal comes back to haunt everyone in the end, for added conflict.
Now, before I get to the Big Bad, I’d like to talk about Gilbert and Jesse. They’re both likeable characters and they’re adorable together, plus they have some really hot sex scenes. Especially the one where Gilbert incorporates his magic. That was interesting and sexy, and it’s probably one of the best sex scenes I’ve read in a while. The only thing is, their romance is more of a whirlwind affair than an actual romance. Everything between them just seems to happen so quickly and I was kind of hoping for more of a buildup than we actually got. They don’t really have a lot of scenes together before they have sex, so when they develop an attachment to one another it doesn’t really feel like it carries as much weight as it would have if they’d had more time to get to know one another. Not that I’m saying they should’ve spent forever and a day talking before they had sex, not at all. I like that they feel free to fuck because they are attracted to each other; I’m just saying it would’ve been nice to have some moments in between the sex scenes (or right after when they cuddle, I’m not picky) where they learn more about each other. I felt like I knew more about the other “freaks” in the circus than I did about Jesse and Gilbert’s budding romance. But maybe that’s how it was supposed to be. Jesse was still a bit hung up on Farfarello, his past feelings for him, and the deal he made 2oo years prior, so maybe the whirlwind affair type of thing between the two men was how it was purposely written. It was just a little disappointing that there wasn’t more to it.
And I would’ve really liked to know more about Jesse and Farfarello, and their history. So, so much. We got a glimpse of it and the barest hint of what it was like between them, but I feel like it would have made the book more well-rounded had we been privy to more information about the deal and Jesse and Farfarello’s past relationship. Because obviously it was something that affected both the demon and the ringmaster for two centuries. It seemed important and necessary to know about, but it was never explored beyond this-happened-and-we’re-now-living-the-consequences. It was a bit of a let down.
As for Count Reuben, he was a caricature, unfortunately. He was two-dimensional and seemed like the mustache-twirling bad guys in cartoons whose only motive is to be a bad guy and take over the world. I never felt the threat of imminent danger, even when his goons were following Gilbert and kidnapping other people with powers. Even when Gilbert and Jesse faced off with Reuben in the end, I never felt like they wouldn’t survive. Reuben’s dastardliness was just flat and uninteresting. I wonder if maybe that was due in part to the lack of world building? I had a hard time placing when this story was set, but guessed it was late 1800’s-ish. It seemed like England, but it wasn’t England, because as far I’m aware Shadowsea is not an English city. We’re told there are people with magic, but beyond that and the fact that iron apparently drains them of their powers, we don’t know anything else about those people. So Reuben’s motive for wanting to build an army of powered people just because he’s a bad guy, was just meh. He could’ve been more.
That being said, I enjoyed the story and I liked the book enough to want to continue with the series. So, hopefully Ms. Grey will come out with another Deal with a Devil novel soon and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it when she does.