The paranormal Black & Blue series by this same author was a departure from her contemporary/romantic comedy books, but I am more than pleased that she continues to dabble in the realm of crossing romance with dark fantasy and horror. I hesitate to call this particular book a paranormal romance because while Will and Jem certainly get involved with the fantasy elements in this book, these facets are not rooted in either character. As a result, the initial novel of the new Arcana Books series is at once a creepy haunted house book and an enjoyable slow-burn romance, with each plot supporting rather than detracting from the other.
The first clue that you’re reading a fantastic twist on either of those genres is how Will gets involved in the main storyline. Jen dragging his love interest along on a ghost investigation could have been cliché, but I loved that he assigns Will the role of “sceptic” for the endeavor. The fact that Will genuinely believes in the supernatural while the professional ghost hunters try to gather actual evidence is an excellent twist on character and situational tropes. Thus, we’re along for the ride as two actual believers join YouTubers on the hunt. The revelation of mutual attraction between Jem and Will, along with their deepening friendship, occurs simultaneously with genuine creepiness. I officially apologize to readers who confessed to difficulty reading the Black & Blue novels after dark; I had to put down this one when the baby monitor at a friend’s house started making mysterious noise when I babysat at night (it was picking up the sound of cars driving by outside, but it totally could have been a ghost).
One of my biggest dislikes about romantic relationships that appear to grow out of danger is that a distinction exists between genuine compatibility and lust-based trauma bonds. Morton deftly sidesteps this issue by first defining the existing attraction between Jen and Will, and then emphasizing their friendship over any physicality. (Not to worry, the steamy scenes might occur after the 50 percent mark, but they are more than worth the wait.) Most importantly, one of my favorite parts of this book is the dynamic of affectionate sass that develops between the men, which allows Morton to bring her signature humor to what might otherwise be a darker book.
This is one of those books that sucked me in and didn’t let go, to the point that I didn’t realize there were points to dislike until after I finished and started thinking about this view. They are minor, however, such as how Morton introduces so many of the characters by Jem describing them before we meet in person and that it also feels assumed we are familiar with all the Black & Blue characters and history while this book is supposed to be a stand-alone. In addition, I always appreciate it when authors match the main character to the book cover, but I have questions about how Will afforded so many gorgeous tattoos when his previous long-term unhoused status (and an assumed accompanying lack of funds) is also mentioned throughout the text.
Regardless of those issues, this is a story not to be missed by readers who enjoyed Morton’s other supernaturally-infused romance novels and anyone who loves a bit of good cross-genre escapism. I look forward to everything Morton writes, but the stories set in this world will always move to the top of my list.