**This review was completed from an e-ARC provided by the author. I have also purchased the book**
Carriger takes a turn away from steampunk with her newest series, the first full book of which is The Sumage Solution. The author has written about her change of genre (modern, X) on her blog and how under a slightly different identity (GL rather than Gail), she hopes to provide her current and new readers a visual cue.
The reader is dropped into an already built world and this comes with some initial flailing for the reader. I had skipped Marine Biology so I am not sure how much of that world is developed in the novella. I sorted out most of it through various backstory hints.
A new wolf pack has relocated to Central California and needs to register and apply to stay, which requires navigating the depths of supernatural government bureaucracy and tosses a very calm but closeted Beta into the office of a snarky and broken Sumage.
Bryan (called Biff by his pack) is a caregiver and calm wolf. As Beta he has both the role of managing pack down and managing his Alpha, who is also his newly merman mated younger brother. He’s closeted due to familial homophobia and embodies the strong silent stereotype.
Max is the failed product of generations of mage hopes — unable to control magic and working an underling job where he moves paperwork around, handles painful things, and trades good natured insults with his boss.
Their chemistry is immediate and it is not particularly long before they fall madly into bed together. If only the relationship part was equally as straightforward.
The book revolves around several themes: changing your self-identity, relationship as healing, finding partnership. Bryan has to adapt to being an openly gay man — to himself, his brother and his pack. Carriger does this in a remarkably accepting fashion–pointing out the issues that will yet remain with family but not letting that get in the way of the love story. Max has fully internalized being a failure as a mage and as being uninterested in continuing his family line through procreation. He also has some serious body images issues and self-loathing going on.
The major trauma in the book really revolves around Max figuring himself out. Some of how that would get sorted was apparent early in the book but didn’t detract from seeing the journey along the way. Both men demonstrate a lot of vulnerability, in their own thoughts, and to each other.
I had some issues with the book. Whether it is because I don’t read as much modern paranormal or hadn’t read the first novella, it took me a long time to sort out what “sumage” referred to. I still don’t fully grasp what the various types of Mages/Sumages do, but I assume that may be more fully addressed later or previously.
And I struggled with Max. The “smart mouth” was, I think, intended to come off as bitchy funny gay boy but frequently just rang bitter or mean. This may have been intended to demonstrate his brokenness but it made him a less relatable or engaging character. Max struck me as a person who in real life you would get tired of really fast because of the obnoxiousness. –That said Carriger shows the frustration I was feeling in other characters, so perhaps I just do not give her quite enough credit.
Carriger is smart enough not pull the “magical sexy-times heals all” that many romances fall into. Sex is complicated for these two men –passionate and wonderful for them (also very explicit) but with emotional repercussions that they both have to face and ultimately, it is outside of the bedroom that they get things sorted.
There were also a few relationship / conversations that struck me as odd. A character was just out of themselves or sounded wrong. I was prepared not to like the merman based on the initial chapters; then he seems to shift and soften and be a much more relatable character.
Overall, I think this will have high appeal to paranormal and male-male romance readers. Some of Carriger’s trademark sly humor shines through and she has a complex set of new relationships to mine in future books.