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 that 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?
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This is one of those rare audio books that will gently push everything else out of your head, a thoroughly engrossing tale told in a voice that will soothe, seduce and excite.
The characters in "Widdershins" are very compelling, and the narrator gives each just enough nuance without intruding on my freedom to imagine. The story starts tugging at my curiosity right off the bat. Within a few pages, I am drawn to Percival Endicott Whyborne -- he has an endearing clumsiness and is so shy I really want to follow him to see why.
The mystery unfolds at a tantalizing pace. Hints are dropped every few pages: a mysterious cipher needs translating, tied to a murder of a wealthy young man “in a seedy part of town.” As it escalates, the richly woven tale incorporates elements of the occult, an ancient Egyptian curse, a secret cult, hideous carnivorous monsters and more. And it is all experienced through the very accessible perspective of our very likable hero.
In addition to the scholarly Whyborne, the book is populated by several enticing players: the dashing detective Griffin Flaherty, the feisty and loyal Dr. Christine Putnam, and a colorful cast of thugs, hookers, pompous bosses and a creepy old-world ghoul. These characters are drawn so well that I can really see them as I listen.
The narration spirals in on you. The first few pages feel aloof and have some technical problems that are unfortunate, but these glitches soon clear up and the timbre of this narrator’s voice comes through clearly. He seems just right for Whyborne: youthful, intelligent, and hesitant, at first. But as the story progresses, as the character grows in confidence, the narrator seems to come closer to the reader’s ear. It’s a pleasant sensation, soothing and familiar.
There is also another sort of suspense, even more adroitly developed. When Whyborne becomes all aflutter over Griffin, the story takes on steam, building up an erotic attraction between two men that, in the Victorian setting, would have been extremely taboo. But this is not a “gay romance” so much as a good story that just happens to include gay characters. The story is erotic, but not tawdry. This is a firstly a suspenseful mystery, then a romance and a love story. Sex comes in due course, but it is not the center of the story. I like that, and the narrator is very good at imbuing these characters with just the right amount of personality to support the carefully crafted sensuality at which Jordan L. Hawk excels.
For me, there are multiple memorable moments in the tantalizing escalation of the romantic attachment between the two lead characters (who just happen to be men). I think this would work equally well for a man and a woman, but there are also unique aspects to a gay romance that the author captures with great sensitivity. The narrator is right there, making these increasingly-erotic encounters both believable and, admittedly, a bit arousing.
I suppose my favorite moment is when Griffin and Whyborne escape hideous monsters by setting off an explosion, and are blown out of the old house and land in the snow. The masculine, muscular Griffin lands on top of the slight, delicate Whyborne, pinning him down. There is a fantastically erotic moment, when Griffin gently asks Whyborne "What am I to do with you?" And Whyborne -- stepping across a hitherto taboo threshold -- says "Whatever you want."
That, and the ending, resonate for me as perfect renditions of a love story between two men, who are perfectly matched.
"Widdershins" is breaking new ground, I think -- moving the genre of "gay fiction" several leagues forward. It's hard to find quality fiction with prominent gay characters. So often, books featuring gay characters make that gayness the center of attention, and the story is all about simplistic sex and "hot" this and "hot" that, shimmering torsos and shallow dialogue. We are beyond that. Widdershins is a gripping story by a talented writer who totally "gets" the nuances of gay romance, read by a narrator who clearly knows whereof he speaks.
~~I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator in exchange for an unbiased review via AudiobookBlast dot com~~
I had read Widdershins, the first book in the Whyborne & Griffin series, in ebook form before my experience with the audiobook. I already knew that Widdershins offered up a fun and exciting historical story with fantastical elements, as well as a touching romance between two men who hadn't believed they could find acceptance, love, and trust in someone. As I do with audiobooks, I hoped to listen to the narration of this story and have it come alive in a new way. Unfortunately, that didn't happen for me.
I've read this is Julian G. Simmons' first foray into narration and that there were some technical issues that made this a less successful start. I haven't listened to any of the later books in this series (but I've read he's improved and certainly there are readers here who've greatly enjoyed the narration of this one), so I can only speak to what I found.
There was not a distinct enough voice for Griffin. I felt there was an attempt, but it was unsuccessful for my ear. The other voices that were distinct (save for Christine and Whyborne), felt unrefined and fell too much on the caricature side for my preferences, and they didn't stay consistent. Also, at times there was a cadence or rhythm he fell into that made sentences lack punch and drew me away from the story.
This next comment falls on me and how I listen to audiobooks, but it's worth mentioning in case other people are the same. I'm in a car much of the time I'm reading an audiobook, therefore sound of the road intrudes. Each time any character whispered or spoke in low tones, I completely missed what was being said. My phone was up to the highest volume, and I'd miss it every single time. From other audiobooks, I know it's a fine line to "whisper" while still being heard at an audible level for the reader. I'm chalking up this issue to a combination of new narrator, my device's limitations, and my environment. Obviously, a perfect storm of poor sound experience.
On the positive side, even though a distinct voice didn't always come through in the narration, a personality did. There wasn't an ambiguity at all to any character's feelings and motivation as present in the text. Being able to feel all those emotions went a long way in helping me enjoy the story when other parts left me frustrated. Also, I felt like his voice does suit the character of Whyborne very well, which is a definite positive since he is the narrator and one of the main characters. As I mentioned earlier, his presentation of Christine was also a plus. Great personality and a distinct change in voice for her.
Although I can't give a wholehearted recommendation for this audiobook based on my own expectations and experience, I can certainly say this is a book to read if you enjoy a clever blend of historical, supernatural, and romantic elements.