Let me start by saying what this book is not. Some of the issues readers have had, I believe, might have been headed off by adjusting expectations. I know this is a Dreamspinner title, so people walk in with certain expectations. Please leave them with your shoes at the door. We've just had the carpets cleaned.
First - this is a book for grownups, but it's not erotic fiction. Second - there is a romance or at least a desperate romantic longing as a centerpiece to the story, but it is not a traditional romance. Do not expect HEA. Third - there will be more, Aldous assures me, so don't despair.
Now let's move on to what this book is. Freaking brilliant. Written by an engineer about a software start up and the exiled, desperate mage who lands a job there, the pages are necessarily filled with computer geek and programmer in-jokes, jabs and nudges. I would love to say I understood every word, but that would be a lie. (The farthest I got into programming was learning HTML and that's sort of like saying, 'hey, I can roller skate, that's just like flying a plane, right?') You don't need to be a programmer, though. The story, from Mordred's initial frustrations in finding a job to the very end, is captivating. The all-too real struggles of keeping an apartment and getting enough to eat while the money runs out live side by side with visits to Unseelie relatives, memories of other planes, and the ever-present, charming oddness that is Imp, Mordred's not always helpful familiar.
We know, from the introduction and certain hints, who Alan, the head programmer, is. We know, but we're fascinated watching the strange pavane of minds that is Alan and Mordred's courtship, all danced in cyberspace. The connection between them surpasses anything purely sexual (though Mordred longs for something physical, at least a meeting) and is one of the most poignant romances I've ever read. To say too much more would give things away, but to me this intertwining of intellect was as satisfying as any physical encounter.
Just so you don't think it's all cerebral, there's plenty of real life peril, a huge helping of dry humor, evil things afoot, cosmic misunderstandings to clear up, and lessons about the dangers of pranks in the office. There are digs at Canadians, programmers, Americans, coffee addicts, gamers, corporations (and their HR departments) and bill collectors, just to name a few. The quirky characters (including our hero Mordred, the Prince of Quirk) nestle close to the reader's heart with breathtaking speed and refuse to let go. There's even a puzzle contained within the book, with a prize offered for the solution, if you happen to be numerically gifted. (Sadly, I wouldn't know where to begin.) Yes, serious things happen. The world could end if our heroes fail kinds of serious. But the story is told with such dry wit that you very seldom feel its true weight, as if it skated along on some unseen EM field.
Did I have a little "aw, man" moment at the end? Perhaps. But the reader paying attention will expect it and we know it's not the end. There were only a couple of minor elements that didn't quite come together for me (which I intend to ask Aldous about - it could have simply been me missing something crucial in my desperate devouring of the story) but taken altogether this is an amazing work.
Have I said it already? Brilliant. Just Brilliant. Leave your preconceptions about what a gay romance should be at the door and enjoy the ride. Your brain needs nourishment in its entertainment sometimes, too.
An unprecedented 95%. It's one I'll be thinking about for a long time to come.