Hidden Places - Book 2
Tomas and Cathal have escaped from Naearu, Cathal’s mystical homeworld, but happily ever after is never as straightforward in real life as it is in books. Then again, most people don’t deal with the complication of a lover who’s magically bound to a tree or have an interfering cat for a cousin.
With Naearu’s police force, the Falcons, still after Cathal, he can’t go home. Now that he and Tomas have consummated their relationship, Cathal’s abilities are evolving and changing to the point that Tomas can sense them. And until the oak portal closes, Cathal—and his new life with Tomas—are in limbo as Cathal can’t expect Tomas to stay with someone who can never venture past the property line. Will he and Tomas ever get to follow through on their engagement?
A pitiful meow, although it could be better described as a squeak, filled the air, followed by a frantic scrabbling of claws. Cathal slid further out the window, so that one foot was resting on the roof, and focused on the direction of the noise. Without the window frame obstructing his view, it was easier to look around for the culprit. Further down the roof, on the overhanging part near the drainpipe, sat a tiny gray tabby kitten, growing more distressed by the moment. “I think it’s stuck,” he decided, when the cat’s meows became louder.
“It probably jumped out there when it saw us and then couldn’t figure out how to get back.” Tomas studied the kitten. “We can’t leave it up there. I’ll go find a ladder.”READ MORE
“A ladder won’t reach that part of the roof.” Cathal squinted, working out the distance between the kitten, where they were, and the ground. He slid his other leg out of the window, finding his balance while he still had his back against the outside of the attic wall.
“Cat?” Tomas tried to grab Cathal’s arm to bring his back inside, but Cathal took another step further out onto the roof, just out of reach. “You can’t go out there. It’s dangerous.”
“I’ll be fine.” Cathal was already working out the quickest way to reach the kitten. At least it wasn’t about to move, but hopefully it wasn’t so scared that it would try and attack him when he got there.
“Let me do it then.”
“So it’s dangerous but you’ll do it?” Cathal snorted at the sensible way in which Tomas had gone from one conclusion to the other. “Your ankle is still tender. It makes more sense for me to.” His voice softened, realizing Tomas was concerned and scared for Cathal’s safety. However, that did not mean he should risk his own in the process. “It’s okay, love. I’ve been on this roof before, and I know the safest way to do this. Why don’t you go find that ladder? We might need it.”
Tomas hesitated. “I could help you here,” he offered.
“There is less chance of scaring the kitten this way.” The kitten meowed again. Cathal didn’t need his ability to know how scared it was. “I’m not leaving it out here, Tomas. Ladder, please. Now.” A ladder would work in that spot. He just had to get the kitten over there. “The drainpipe is closer than the outside stairs, but I don’t know if it’s still in good repair.”
“Drainpipe?” Tomas looked between Cathal and the kitten. He paled. “You are not going down that fucking drainpipe with that kitten. Promise me?” Without waiting for a reply he was gone, calling for Donovan.
“I promise,” Cathal said softly. This looked more dangerous than it was, but Cathal was not about to take any unnecessary risks. He’d done this before, on more than one occasion, the first time just to see if it could be done, much to Christian’s amusement. Alice had ripped verbal shreds off him after she found out, and then Christian too when he’d laughed at her reaction.
There was a light breeze, but nothing that would cause any problems. Cathal stood for a moment, enjoying the freedom of being so exposed to wind and sun with nothing between him and the elements. He’d forgotten how good it felt being up here like this, despite the cold, especially after a decent amount of rain, the air crisp and clean. It always smelled better up higher for some reason, closer to the sky.
The kitten squeaked. It was watching him cautiously. He projected reassurance and comfort, figuring that even if the animal couldn’t feel the emotions at least it would keep himself calm. His brother, Kane, had used the strategy once when rescuing a cat from a tree. It had worked for him, but being able to project his emotions onto others drew on the strengths of his ability rather than Cathal’s.
Cathal edged further out along the roof, choosing his footing carefully. There was more moss on the tiles than there had been the last time he’d done this, and it occurred to him that perhaps the roof might not be in as good repair, being that much older. Still, he’d got this far and wasn’t about to give up yet.
Below him, he heard voices. Tomas would be organizing the ladder. Cathal hoped it wouldn’t be needed, but the idea of having it as an option was beginning to feel very welcome. Six more steps and he’d reach the kitten. Another meow, but this time it was accompanied by a loud purr. “You know you’re going to be rescued, don’t you?”
Up closer, he could see just how tiny it was, barely weaned from his mother at a guess. It must have wandered away from the litter wanting to explore, and got out of its depth very quickly. How had it got up here? Perhaps it had found its way into the inn through an open window and then onto the roof from there. Maybe from the attic, as Tomas had originally suggested?
His foot slipped, the feel of the firm roof beneath him disappearing as he scrambled to find a foothold, barely managing to right himself.
Heidi screamed. Tomas swore loudly, his voice carried by the wind.COLLAPSE
Magic’s Muse is the second book in the Hidden Places series, but the first that I have read by Anne Barwell. The first book, Cat’s Quill, centers around Tomas’s meeting Cathal and their time in Naearu. It sets out Barwell’s world and myth building that is so important to the events that occur here and introduces us to characters in the continuing storyline of the Hidden Places. That said, I am not sure I wish to go back and read what must be a very bittersweet story. If I do, it will be because Barwell has such a beautiful way with the English language. Her sentences flow with a magic all of their own, transporting us easily to places we have never been to meet people not of this world. Her narrative is rich in its descriptions and the tumultuous emotions of all the characters involved. From the lyrical passages of the countryside with its fields and magical oak tree, to the dust motes in the attic of the inn that has been the focal point of time travel, it makes us feel that we are there, listening to the floor boards creak and the branches sigh with the wind.
Her characters are as rich and complex as the story she is telling. Tomas is a author of popular books and initially a tough character in which to invest your affections. He comes across as extremely self centered, oblivious sometimes to the feelings of those closest to him. Tomas’ attention is all about his writing; he is consumed with his stories, one of which will bring him into contact with Lord Cathal Emerys of Naearu. We can recognize Tomas as one whose social skills are sadly lacking and whose focus is always somewhere else, even when someone is talking to him. Indeed while Tomas can come off as quite dour, Cathal shimmers with magic and vulnerability. Cathal easily endears himself to the reader, for Tomas it takes a little longer. Cathal misses his family even as he recognizes that Tomas’ world is the only place they will be safe and have a future. Cathal is filled with guilt over his role in Christian’s punishment and struggling to find a balance in his relationship with Tomas. So much is going on in Cathal’s head and heart that sometimes he is feel estranged from the every day moments in the inn. Barwell imbues all of her characters with so much heart, soul, and intelligence that everyone breathes and bleeds across the pages.
And bleed these characters do. Whether is it actual blood, or their emotions bleeding out of them, there is so much sadness and loss within these story that your heart hurts from reading it. Christian is an especially tragic figure. Condemned to being a cat, he was torn away form his wife and newborn son. His beloved wife continued to wait for him to return up to her last breath, as what is months in one world is years in Tomas’. And now his son is dying in a nursing home and his grandson needs him badly. Christian’s wife’s sketches and paintings pop up throughout the story bringing with them the bittersweet memories of their time together. He too awaits the closing of the portal, the only thing that will restore his human form. No character is left untouched by regret or sorrow. Looming over all the events occurring is the threat that the Falcons can reappear to pull one or all of them back to Naearu for judgment and jail. Over and over we are told their reappearance is eminent and the foreboding builds incrementally. And that brings me to my only quibble with this tale.
We are left with quite a few dangling ends of the saga, so many that I assume that another book will follow this one. A child is still missing, two characters have just paired up, and all agree that Lady Deryn will never give up on her goal of marriage to Cathal and her need to destroy Tomas. With all that hanging over our couple and their friends at the end, I would classify this as a happy for now, not the happy ever after others see it as. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think not. That would let Cathal and Tomas off too easily, something I would not expect of Barwell and her saga building. With descriptive passages and a richly enthralling narrative Barwell conjures up a tale of two worlds and a rising rebellion that will effect both. This story can only be part of a much larger plan. I look forward to seeing what comes next.
Cover by Anne Cain is one of my absolute favorites. As rich in detail and evocative in feeling, it is one of my best of the year.