Fiction, Reviews

Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

The book cover is displayed on a Kobo eReader. The cover displays the title at the bottom and the author's name at the top. One man with messy dark hair stands on the left side of the cover, holding an open book with mist coming out. Another man stands behind him and to the right, holding a cane and looking towards the first man. This book cover is sitting on a yellow background with two faint bird imprints.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

By the time I reached the entrance to the library complex, my heart thumped hard enough to make me light-headed, and it was everything I could do not to break into a run. Glad beyond words to be quit of the place, I shut the door behind me, turned, and tripped over the body of the night watchman.

**There are minor spoilers in the “Content Warnings” and “Review” portions of this post**

Book one of the “Whyborne and Griffin” series.
Published: December, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Horror
Representation: Gay (LGBT+); Feminism (woman who doesn’t fulfill societal roles); Mental Health
Content Warnings: Sexually explicit; past trauma & PTSD; past death; gore; physical and magical violence.

Summary

Some things should stay buried.


Repressed scholar Percival Endicott Whyborne has two skills: reading dead languages and hiding in his office at the Ladysmith Museum. After the tragic death of the friend he secretly loved, he’s ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man.


So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible. Griffin left the Pinkertons following the death of his partner, hoping to start a new life. But the powerful cult which murdered Glenn has taken root in Widdershins, and only the spells in the book can stop them. Spells the intellectual Whyborne doesn’t believe are real.


As the investigation draws the two men closer, Griffin’s rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne’s iron control. When the cult resurrects an evil sorcerer who commands terrifying monsters, can Whyborne overcome his fear and learn to trust? Will Griffin let go of his past and risk falling in love? Or will Griffin’s secrets cost Whyborne both his heart and his life? 

— taken from Goodreads

Review

Let’s start with this: Abarna is not a fan of historical fiction set in the countries of colonizers or colonies like the United States. Not necessarily through any fault of the author, historical fiction tends to be decidedly not diverse. Fair enough, depending on the time and place there may not have been many people of colour, LGBT+ folks were wholeheartedly suppressed by their societies, and women were treated as lesser beings. There are always exceptions to this rule, and fortunately, thankfully, this is one of them. 

The author, Jordan L. Hawk (a trans author!) seems to incorporate as much diversity as possible; including multi-racial couples, a “cross-dressing” character, a lesbian couple and multiple gay couples, and more. You see more and more diversity throughout the series, which, along with the interesting story, character development, and relationship progressions, excites us to no end! 

The primary female character, Dr. Christine Putnam, is a force to be reckoned with, and we relish it. In fact, while reading the series Becca and Abarna never stopped raving about how spunky and assertive Christine is. Living in a time and place where women are expected to sit down and know their place, Christine powerfully objects to the ridiculous gender roles her peers and other folks impose on her. She works as an archeologist, a profession usually only reserved for men at the time, and is constantly disrespected for her choice of employment and attitude. But she always fights back. And it is wonderful!

I will not surrender my profession simply because men throughout history have been unduly enamored of their penises!

– Dr. Christine Putnam; “Widdershins” by Jordan L. Hawk

The main antagonist in this book has a magnetism that is frankly quite unsettling. It’s almost as if he exudes charm, while still discussing deeply troubling, problematic, and violent concepts. Not only that, but there are many ways in which the protagonist and antagonist are very similar. The antagonist says so at one point, but all the other parallels are made by the protagonist himself through introspection, which is unnerving in its own regard. 

Of course, there is also the matter of the main character, Percival Endicott Whyborne, who is a relatable, intelligent scholar with a soul-wrenching self-deprecating streak, harbouring animosity for his wealthy father and obnoxious brother (eat the rich, am I right?) He’s also a gay virgin, which makes for an entertaining, sometimes depressing romantic storyline (for reasons unrelated to his virginity and sexual orientation), that just gets sweeter and steamier as the series goes on. His love interest, Griffin Flaherty, is a charming and clever detective, with his fair share of trauma and a sharp wit to go with it. Their relationship sets up in the first book, but grows and deepens as the series goes on. It’s so meaningful in terms of representation, and models quite a healthy, and loving connection.

Before Griffin had come along, I’d been living inside a photograph: just a facsimile of life, without either colour or depth.

– Dr. Percival Endicott Whyborne; “Widdershins” by Jordan L. Hawk

To be frank, the writing does take some getting used to. As a historical fiction, and considering the fact that the protagonist is a scholar, the writing style is markedly different from the way that we talk. There will be more than one occasion where you come across a word that you don’t know. This can be daunting at first, and admittedly a little annoying. But you would be surprised at quickly you will adjust, and come to understand the choice of language. Abarna and Becca both read this series on an eReader, and if it’s within your means, we would recommend using an eReader, smart phone, or tablet.

Now, in terms of the story and setting there is quite a lot going on, as you might gather from the long list of genres that this book fits into. Jordan L. Hawk channels Lovecraftian horror (without the disgusting racism and general prejudices that H.P. Lovecraft harboured), even going so far as to include aspects and settings featured in Lovecraft’s various works. Whyborne went to school at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, a fictional town and university first seen in Lovecraft’s works. Whyborne stumbles upon a grimoire that seems to be modelled after Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. Various creatures and entities are parallel to those of Lovecraft’s, including Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep. Fans of Lovecraft will inevitably enjoy these nods to his works, not just in Widdershins, but throughout the Whyborne & Griffin series. 

Unsurprisingly, these elements also contribute to various horrible atrocities depicted throughout that are sure to make your skin crawl and, if you’re anything like us, make you glad that it has not yet been graphically depicted on screen. It also makes things quite interesting, and intriguing enough to entice you to read through all 11 books. Eleven books!? Yes, we know. Abarna has commitment issues when it comes to long book series’, while Becca had to exercise great restraint to not blow several months worth of book budget in one go by buying the entire series immediately after finishing the first book – we both encourage you to give it a try, and take breaks in between books if you need them. The first few books in the series don’t seem to be connected, but somewhere along the way you start to realize there is a larger story arc, one that seems to be leading closer and closer to certain doom. You learn more about the ragtag cast of characters, and the books emphasize concepts of “found family,” (family by choice, not birth), which is tearfully heart-warming at best and sob-inducing at worst. It’s especially endearing because the members of this family are so unconventional, it’s hard not to love them. As is always the case with series, some books are better than others, but nonetheless they are definitely worth the read.

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