Murder in a magical, merry town just brimming with secrets. On the snowy road to the Earth Kingdom for the holidays, Imogen and the bakers are ambushed by Horace, villainous leader of the Badlands Army. They’re forced to detour to an idyllic, rural village, bedecked in lights, garlands and winter cheer…all a little too perfect to believe. At least that’s so for Imogen, who’s seeing burned out buildings and mysterious memorials that no one else seems to notice. Hank’s royal presence gets them invited to the big bash at the governor’s mansion. The night is filled with dancing, stolen kisses under the mistletoe and fun, until a guest is found dead in the cauldron of punch. As bodies and mysteries pile up, all the evidence points to the vampire Francis as the culprit. The gang must come together to clear their friend’s name and save themselves from the angry villagers. Even worse, Imogen struggles with having to keep her relationship with Hank hidden, while working with him to find the real killer. As Imogen unearths more than a few town secrets, she finally solves the riddles of her past and discovers the truth of Horace’s pursuit of her. But will all the secrets be unraveled in time to stop the killer, or will Imogen and her friends suffer a monstrous fate?
I had hoped to get to books 4 and 5 in this series sooner, but had a few delays. At least I can say, without a doubt, that it was so worth the wait!
It’s Christmas time, or rather Bruma, in Imogen’s enchanted world. While most are off celebrating and sharing good cheer, Imogen and her friends find themselves neck deep in another crazy adventure.
I think Erin’s storytelling gets stronger and stronger from book to book. This fourth instalment may be my favourite. But I might change my mind when I read book five!
Again, I’ll highlight how important it is to read this series in order. Yes, each story has a clearly defined mystery to solve but the many elements surrounding it and how the characters interrelate builds from book to book. An example of this is that I don’t think it was particularly difficult to figure out who the culprit was in this story. It was far more intriguing to discover the how and the why. The why also plays into a bigger series arc. Erin is doing a masterful job of creating an intricate and fully engrossing series web.
I get a bit of a Harry Potter vibe at times as a result of this. And also from how the author throws in some very important real-world lessons within the fantasy world. Discrimination and bullying are real, regardless of how it’s presented. In this series, it is shape shifters who are seen as different, inferior and something to be feared. Sam is a shifting snake/ human who bears the brunt of this magical bias, which is touched upon from book one. When Sam is attacked because of what he is, the issue comes to a boiling point.
“My first instinct was to chide Sam for telling them what he was. He knew the world didn’t look kindly on shifters and that it wasn’t safe. But then I felt ashamed. How terrible to chide someone for simply talking about who they are.”
I find this to be a very powerful message, worked into an otherwise light-hearted story.
On the romance front, Imogen and Hank continue their whirlwind despite the challenges they face. Maple still can’t decide between two very different young men. But don’t worry, it’s not a messy love triangle! Maple simply has to figure out herself first, then she can work out her true feelings.
I’m pleased I pegged one of Imogen’s family connections correctly from earlier clues! This book gave us a closer look at Imogen’s real family. It’s a crazy story and one that’s quite heart-breaking. It puts Imogen in a very unique position that we’ll have to wait to explore in later books.
Some things I liked:
- The magical world building continues and Imogen continues to learn how to wield her abilities.
- We are fed bits of back story in each new book. Enough to satisfy but still leave the reader dying to find out more.
- The author is not afraid to mix in some heavier issues, such as discrimination.
- Character development and relationship development continue.
- Story arcs are further developed and continue to whet the appetite for future books.
- The poker game ‘cheat set up’.
- Even more hilarious nautical swear words and expressions: “You jellyfish-brained, sea-snaking moron of a guppy!”
Something I didn’t like:
- I wish we could see a bit more of Hank’s thought process regarding his relationships with Imogen and his family. So far, he seems to be getting off real easy. I suspect there’s more at play here and I hope subsequent books will deliver on that.
The magical adventures are delicious. I love these characters and this setting. Each book so far has packed quite a punch. What secrets will Book 5 reveal next??? I’m so excited to find out.
I give this book 5/5 magical Espresso Shots.