I count myself among the readers who were thrilled when James announced she would be returning to the world of her Necessary Evils series with a spin-off featuring the “murder muppets” introduced in Moonstruck. Jericho is now a Mulvaney by marriage, which means the band of strays in their early 20s had to come along for the ride. The distinction between these two series is that none of these guys are psychopaths, like the original Mulvaney brothers. However, James doesn’t shy away from the connecting concept of doing bad in the service of the greater good, letting us know what we’re in for right away in Chapter 1. How Arsen first encounters Ever is one of the most horrifying “meet-cutes” possible, but it does an excellent job of portraying Arsen’s character as morally gray but inherently good.
Where this series does appear to be similar to Necessary Evils is regarding the fairly nontraditional “romance” arcs that the characters follow. But where some books do try to portray trauma bonding as romance, James never attempts to shoehorn her characters into a more traditional mindset. Arsen and Ever definitely experience mutual trauma bonding, both acute and chronic, and the fact that it develops into believable love is more of a credit to James’ writing and character ability rather than any sort of representation of reality. But we’re not here for realism, we’re here for delightful escapism, and I’m more than happy to follow these characters on their journey together, even when it addresses genuine issues of trauma response and recovery but doesn’t delve too heavily into the angst.
A reader’s mileage may vary if they are coming to this series new. There are a ton of characters to track, from all of the muppets to the Mulvaneys (and Mulvaneys by marriage, of which there is also some overlap). No complaints here, since I adored still being part of this world. The external plot surrounding Ever’s origin story escalates in an unexpected manner, bringing the full weight of this ensemble cast into play.
And on a final, biased note, this gamer already loves the title conceit for this series. This novel features a decent portrayal of gaming, including streaming gameplay to Discord. I already look forward to my next visit to this world, which is as fantastical in its own right as the MMORPG Arsen plays.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.