This book popped close to the top of the list when I began to intentionally search out urban fantasy stories emphasizing queer characters instead of queer paranormal romances. A difference between the two exists, even when one of the central characters in this book has a paranormal ability. The romance between Josh and Ewan is very much secondary to the actual conflict in this novel, even when, for the first time in his life, Josh’s ability to see ghosts is an asset instead of a liability. I expected to spend a lot of time in this book with him interpreting for the local ghosts, but I was delighted by the twist that everyone on the estate can communicate with them (for which Masters gives a valid fantasy reason). The humans and spirits of Mannix Estate receive equal emphasis as characters, and Masters balances the description of all of them well without overloading the reader.
The relationship between Josh and Ewan does develop over the full length of the book, but the necessary conflict for this plot arc is encountered and resolved early. This story structure is a significant cue that the novel is urban fantasy rather than paranormal romance, despite fantasy and romance as central to both. It also allows the more life-threatening conflict of the book to take precedence late without any “will he/won’t he?” drama stealing the spotlight. Masters emphasizes how communication is a major theme of the book by having a lack of communication between Josh and Ewan create the conflict, an authorial choice I found amusing since everyone else (read: the ghosts) can communicate just fine (and possibly too much).
I’ll admit that the book’s first half dragged a bit for me. Once the minor conflict between Josh and Ewan is over, and they decide to be “friends” (ha, like that’s going to last), Josh meeting everyone and settling into his new home takes up a lot of pages. Masters also falls into a version of the “cell phones in a horror story” trap because I desperately wanted to shove a Bluetooth headset at Josh to resolve the issues with him talking to thin air. Everything changes when we hit the 50 percent mark, and the resident ghosts acknowledge that they were waiting for Josh to get comfortable before they hit him with the estate’s dark secret. Then, we’re swept up in an engaging old-school mystery vibe. Everyone pitches in to deal with immediate concerns, handle amusing research issues, and then confront the villain. In contrast, the last half of the book enthralled me, and Masters balances the external plot with Josh and Ewan’s deepening connection well.
While a major issue for the estate is solved in this book, opportunities are left open for further conflict and focus on additional characters. I look forward to the next installment of this series, and I’m definitely curious about whether we ever learn about or meet the mysterious estate owners—and possibly a certain online contact.