Series: Tales of the Outlaw Mages, #4
Author: Amy Campbell
When the enemy comes calling, this outlaw spitfire will gamble her freedom to save her friends.
Vixen Valerie dreads her past. After more than a decade of life on the run, she fears the charade is over. When an enemy nation threatens to attack the outlaw mage’s chosen homeland, she’s desperate to stop them.
Teaming up with her friends, Vixen travels deep into Confederation territory on a dangerous mission. But with a clandestine foe doubling down on their every move, Vixen fears that she and her friends have been dealt a bad hand.
Will Vixen’s magic be the royal flush needed to save her friends, or will they be doomed by a losing bet?
Persuader is the exciting fourth book in the weird western fantasy series Tales of the Outlaw Mages. If you like LGBTQ representation, magical cowboys, pegasus, and found family then you’ll love Amy Campbell’s sweeping adventure. Buy Persuader and saddle up for a fantasy ride unlike any other today!
As often occurs with the books I like best, this is going to be quite a hard review to write. I really liked Persuader, and a lot of things that made it stand out so much to me would be what most people would consider “spoilers,” so let’s see if how much I can share that makes sense without going into those.
Persuader introduces us to a new main character – Vixen – while still following the developing relationships and stories of Blaise, Jefferson, Jack, and Kittie. Vixen turned out how to feel quite a bit different than how I had imagined her from Breaker, feeling much younger and more – innocent, perhaps? Less jaded, and more emotionally vulnerable. She feels even more like a child sometimes in the presence of her mother, even though she hasn’t been with her mother in ages. Fundamentally, this is the story of these characters, and while many of them are definitely movers either on or behind the scene of national and international politics, the story really feels like it’s about who they are, and how they change, and who they – and some others – choose to become when reality (sometimes a much better reality than they dreamed) confronts them.
One of the things I really liked about their stories is the theme of the power of love, and personal loyalty. As Jefferson says, regarding choosing between the people he loves (Blaise), and things (like nations) that are “supposed” to hold people’s loyalty …
“I already made that choice once before, but it wasn’t the Gutter that was involved,” Jefferson replied, his words crisp. The matter-of-fact statement made Blaise’s heart squeeze. Jefferson chose me above everything else.
I can’t say how much I loved the dynamic between Blaise and Jefferson. I did think there was sometimes more sexual innuendo than there needed to be, enough to be a little distracting at times, but the connection between them and the way both of them support each other and would fight anything for each other – just like Jack and Kittie, though they have very different personalities and so go about it very differently – was the best.
“I”ll fight the entire Confederation for you, if I must.”
Those words are essentially the vow cementing their relationships – spoken first by a politician and entrepreneur in that very Confederation, to a man imprisoned for supposed “crimes,” a mage with no considered “rights,” and then by that mage back to that politician, now bereft of all the wealth he’d established, and meant absolutely literally. Blaise, just by being who he is, reminds Jefferson who he is and who he wants to be, and Jefferson’s love is always there, supporting Blaise in the confidence to be himself and stand up to his fears. And that’s something Blaise needs more than ever, as he faces a place of horrifying memories that sends him into panic attacks all too easily.
Jefferson studied him so intently that Blaise was certain he’d call him on the lie. The Dreamer reached up and touched his cheek. “I know you don’t consider yourself brave, but you are. You possess an incredible amount of courage to take action despite your fear.”
Some of Blaise’s nerves melted away at Jefferson’s words. “My courage isn’t stronger than fear, but my love is.”
“And that, my dear, is where the real power lies.”
But then there’s someone else who gets it completely wrong, putting the things his “love” cares about in danger for the barest chance of forcing her to love him, and abandoning the person who does, mutually and absolutely, love him. It was easy to hate him at times, as his violation of common decency begs one to hate him, yet there were times when something in him and his choices calls for something more. He’s really messed up somehow, and there are no excuses for his actions … but how did he get to be that way?
And there’s Jack and Kittie, a couple both of whom will go to the ends of the earth for the other one and won’t countenance the other going into danger without them … though Jack sure tries to leave Kittie behind and get himself into trouble.
Meanwhile, Vixen is trying to re-enter her life before she became an outlaw mage, which will possibly require her to leave her pegasus, Alekon, behind. And I am going to believe that she did this largely because Jack talked her into it, implying that it’s her responsibility, and I thought the fact she could even consider possibly parting with him forever was like the saddest and more wrong thing ever.
But there seems to be another power at work as well.
And with that mysterious statement …
The Continued Review:
That mysterious statement brings us to one of the biggest twists or spoilers, and one of my favorite things about the book. The god most worshiped in Phinora, which is essentially the center of the Salt-Iron Confederation (for those who are reading the spoiler section of a review for the 4th book in a series they haven’t started yet, that’s the big bad that enslaves mages), is Garus, the God of Wisdom, and everyone believes that he hates mages, as magic is an “unreason” in opposition to “wisdom.” He is represented by a Luminary, and he chooses the Spark who will become the next Luminary. And Vixen is supposed to be the Spark …
And when the Luminary (who is her mother) discovers that her Spark daughter is a mage, she loses it and suggests that Vixen should never have been born, and definitely should have died and never come back to her.
But … it turns out … Garus isn’t who most people think he is. For some reason that isn’t explained (and I liked it this way), he’s been mostly absent and inactive for a while … but now his hand is in at least some of what is coming to play, and may have been from the birth of Vixen and her twin brother … for the Luminary never has twins.
In the service of a group of shadowy conspirators, Vixen’s ex-boyfriend, Raven, snares both the Luminary and Kittie, Jack’s Pyromancer wife also known as the Firebrand, and abducts them into a land of shadows, along with a woman mutually known to both of them. And the seeds of change are sown in the Luminary’s heart, as her initial reaction to Kittie and her fire-horse turns into the recognition that something described in her own holy book, that she’d thought was only metaphor, is literally happening before her eyes:
“Let the flame in the darkness guide you home.”
It’s hard to describe well in a review – impossible; this is why we read books! – but I loved the way the Luminary’s attitude changes, in a way that’s slow at first, and feels very genuine. Very, very well-done.
But there’s more than that: in almost the last move of the book, Garus makes his will known before all again, and he tells Vixen she was never meant to be the Luminary – she is still his, touched by his magic, but she is free of that responsibility – and instead he chooses as his Spark, her twin brother, who wants it when he is presented with it, and is in many ways suited for it – despite the fact that he, too, is somehow disregarded and used by his society because of the way he was born.
END SPOILER SECTION
There’s more I could go into (more spoilers I could go into, too), but I think I’m going to have a hard time putting it together in a way that makes any amount of sense to people who haven’t read the book. It’ll have to do for me to say there’s more than I managed to touch on here, relating to people and their experiences, and the really cool way in which things are woven together, as well as contrasted.
One thought on “ARC Review: Persuader (Tales of the Outlaw Mages) by Amy Campbell”
Pingback: A-Z Book Tag – Enthralled By Love