Title: The First Age: Where Angels Fear To Tread
Series: The Secret Histories Book One
Author: Arshad Ahsanuddin
LGBTQ+ Category: MM Gay (non romance)
Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild
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Mikal despised the idea of working with an Imperial, for reasons both personal and political, but only the invaders’ magic could repair the artifact weapon that was the last link to a family he’d left behind. Rian was a magician by trade, trying to escape the obligations of his noble birth, and the life his family planned out for him.
Living incognito at the border of Imperial territory, he found his solitude interrupted by a mysterious visitor with an impossible commission. Their meeting will set in motion a chain of events that will irrevocably alter everything they know of the world, and set their two civilizations on a course to ruin.
Note: “The Secret Histories” is a series of four novellas in the Pact Arcanum universe, spanning prehistory to decades after the Pact Arcanum Saga concluded. To be released quarterly in 2020, exclusively on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.
“What is the first rule of magic?”
“Ignorance is for the weak.”
I give this five stars because Arshad Ahsanuddin’s writing is marvelous and elegant. His world-building is also pretty fantastic, and subtle, in addition. There are no great info-dumps that try to explain a whole new universe, just details along the way that create bright points of understanding that build upon themselves as the narrative proceeds. The reader does feel as if they’ve been dropped into the middle of something, but bit by bit a picture emerges and they feel at home.
I was struck by the not-too-heavily veiled parallels that Ahsanuddin’s universe has with our own world. A highly industrial and mineral-based magical civilization colonizes and marginalizes an earth-and-plant-based magical civilization that it constantly refers to as “primitive.” Even the kinds of magic used by the two civilizations – at peace now, but with a mutual enmity dating back three thousand years – are very different. I’ll note that there’s a distinctly “Star Wars” feeling about the technology, but the importance of magic is one of those fascinating tropes that I attribute to the Harry Potter phenomenon.
When Mikal, a border warden, finds himself in need of special skills to repair his bow after an accident in the wilderness, he seeks out a gifted young magical craftsman on the margins of one of the Empire’s provincial cities near the heavily forested borderlands. Rian is utterly fascinated by the magical technology of Mikal’s bow, and tries to trick Mikal into revealing more than he wishes to. The twist here is that Rian is Madrian Tanek, whose father is the governor of the largest Imperial city in the New World. Rian’s ongoing interest in Mikal and his people’s magic leads to a whole series of complications that bring the Westerners into confrontation with the Imperials once more.
Needless to say, both young men have daddy issues, Rian with his father, Darin Tanek, and Mikal with his father, Merran. One of the more interesting of those complications is that Merran was a governmental assassin and bodyguard, an Imperial Edge, before marrying Mikal’s “primitive” mother. The fact that Mikal and Rian find each other very attractive is also something that promises all sort of emotional hullabaloo going forward.
Meanwhile, the rebellious Rian’s even more rebellious uncle, Laras Tanek, is a frustrated wizard scholar, yearning to dig deep into old magic and parts of the Empire’s past that other wizards really want him to stay out of. This furnishes the plot with a whole other set of complications, leading up to a surprising denouement will surely be a catalyst for the plot of the second book, “Fire and Darkness.”
Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.
Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.
By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City.
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