His whole life, Harlan Brand’s psychic “gift" has been anything but. Being a medium meant being abandoned by his parents to grow up at the Centre—a school for the psychically gifted—where he was lonely but safe from the ghosts that terrorized his childhood.
But now at twenty-one he's out in the real world, working for the Toronto Police Service as a ghost janitor, cleaning up after crimes and hauntings in the Greater Toronto Area. Adding to the anxiety of leaving the ghost-warded safety of the Centre, the cop assigned as his partner seems to hate him, he's having confusing feelings for a BDSM club owner that bring out his deepest fantasies, and to make matters even worse, ghosts are popping up where they shouldn't.
As Harlan follows the trail of misplaced spirits, he finds himself getting closer and closer to a horror from his worst nightmares.
- 2 To Be Read lists
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay, Transgender
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 3 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Coming of Age, Hurt / Comfort
Word Count: 70000
Setting: Toronto, Ontario
Languages Available: English
Rattling Chains is one of those books that grabs you right at the start, pulls you in, and never lets go. I was lucky enough to get a beta copy, and I finished it, twice, in one sitting apiece.
Set in a world where psychics are normal, codified, trained to hold jobs in society, it could feel really strange, very other. But with little touchstones here and there, a website, a detail, the author pulls the threads together, grounding the world in ours cleanly and surely. The paranormal elements never feel unnatural or unreal, and when the horror comes, that only makes it deeper, more visceral.
And there is horror. It's not lavished on, it's not Saw or Lovecraft, it's not a thick layer that screams and gibbers. It's a clean, gentle, like a pillow over the face as you're just starting to fall asleep. It's surgical, precise, just enough horror to make your heart pound, but not enough that you feel silly.
And beyond that, there's romance. The interactions between Harlan and his paramour, are funny, human, real. It's not some overwrought soap opera, these are people being people, with awkwardness, laughter, and all the weird and wonder of dating.
The romance is one of the two biggest draws of the book, because it turns a lot on it's head. Harlan is a neurodivergent coded twink, his love interest is a bluff, funny bear, and neither takes the role we expect them to.
There's none of the tropes one expects from "romance books," either. No unspoken misunderstandings that send one partner fleeing and the other after them willy nilly, no arbitrary triangles, no partners from the depths coming back to stir irrational jealousy. Nothing in the romance makes you want to scream at the characters, "Just talk to each other, damnit!"
It feels real. It feels like an actual, organic, relationship. Like the author snuck up behind a couple and listened in and just transcribed.
And there's kink, and it's good kink. Again, it's smooth, easy, an interaction between people that happens to involve spanking. It's what people look like when they actually do this, not a lurid Sadean fantasy.
And, of course, the paranormal elements. Those are some of the tightest things in the book. It's a one-two punch, delivered straight to the heart palpitations, and it's wildly effective.
The first shot comes in the build up. Too often, a paranormal book draws its suspense from an unskilled protagonist, or makes the protagonist so powerful that only gods can challenge them (looking at you, LKH.)
Here, the elements are everyday. Common. It's normal here, in this world. Harlan has trained for years and is good at his job. The suspense comes from the unexplained, from elements that the characters themselves don't understand.
The strength is in the mystery, the characters interactions, and the horror elements that slowly build. This is a book that makes the paranormal everyday, and then dives off into the unknown, drawing strength and power from the fact that no one, the reader, the characters, no one knows what's happening or why.
But the other punch, the knockout, is that it's all crafted carefully. The rules are never broken. The world is internally consistent. And again, in that, it feels real. We can study to the end of time, and never find all the crannies of reality, and here, the same is true.
These things that happen, this world of horror, is baked into the setting. It's simply undiscovered country for the characters, and we get to ride along, hearts in our throats, as they discover it.
There are plenty of loose ends. There's no neat, clean wrap up. No Men In Black come and exposition everything away.
Which means, I hope, there's a sequel coming, because I desperately want to read more from T. Strange in this compelling, fascinatingly crafted world.