News, Lifestyle, Music, Entertainment
  • Books
  • Release Day Review: His Master's Summons by Cassie Sweet

Release Day Review: His Master's Summons by Cassie Sweet

 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
762   0   1   0   0   0
EW
Write Review

Book Info

Book Series
Azgarth's Chosen
About the Author
Cassie Sweet lives and works from her home office in the New Jersey Highlands, where she shares space with her overly affectionate Golden Retriever and artist husband. Her writing takes her to many destinations, both real and imagined.
Publication Date
February 16, 2016
Pages
234
ISBN
978-1-63476-364-6
ASIN
B01AEJUJS4
Excerpt
Chapter One

 

Teatro La Fenice, Venice Italy—1897

 

DR. MIKHAIL Stanslovich huddled into the darkness of the private box. Sounds of the other patrons finding their seats created a gentle rumble through the acoustically perfect room. Voices echoed and carried to him in a wash of emotion. Excitement vibrated through the theater, taking on a living presence. One Mikhail could almost taste and feel.

Spirits always ran high whenever Andres Valentine took to the stage. A true virtuoso in every sense of the word, Valentine made love to the audience through his music. Passion, love, sex—all the base emotions were present in Valentine’s concerts. For this reason alone, Mikhail had traveled so far to see him play.

Cloying scents of too much perfume and men’s pomade wafted up from the floor below. He tried not to take in too big a breath, lest he gag on the fumes. Women had a tendency to overplay their hand. Was it beyond their comprehension that the musician whom they came to hear would not single them out from the stage by scent alone?

Dante Savoy, Mikhail’s best friend and fellow scientist, shifted in the seat beside him. He pulled at his white waistcoat and made a face. “You’d think from the price we paid for these seats they’d be more damned comfortable.”

Mikhail shot Dante a withering glance. “This is one of the world’s premiere opera houses. It is everything grand and fashionable.”

Dante’s mouth quirked up at the corner. “You said that about Vienna, London, Paris, Rome, and even New York.”

“Because you’ve complained about them all. You are an absolute Philistine.” There was no malice or even much heat behind Mikhail’s words. He loved Dante better than anyone in the world and knew him to be a cultured and sophisticated man with discerning tastes in music, art, and science.

They had met in medical school and formed a friendship that lasted for over ten years. Both of them worked tirelessly researching the art of reanimation. As music was a passion to Andres Valentine, science and medicine were to Mikhail.

Other than traveling the world to see Valentine perform, but then who could blame Mikhail for having one or two vices.

Mikhail scanned the audience, wondering how many others had gone far and wide for the pleasure of hearing Valentine make auditory love to the masses? A slight burn of jealousy heated his veins.

He doubted any of them were as loyal a fan as himself. Not even Dante.

The lights dimmed. A hush fell over the audience. The curtains opened. A lone man walked across the stage. His presence heightened anticipation throughout the room: Maestro Wilhelm Kering, the symphony conductor and man who brought Valentine from busking on the street corners for change to a celebrated world-renowned artiste.

Rumors circulated that Kering was a cruel and nasty taskmaster who kept his musicians under his thumb as the devil imprisoned the wicked and unjust. Mikhail brushed off the idle comments as gossip. As any great man knew, there were those who strove to diminish another’s success by railing against his accomplishments. How well Mikhail knew the scourge of quarrelsome tongues.

Kering tapped his baton against the music stand, and the musicians played the first strains of the opening piece. The tune was unfamiliar to Mikhail; the orchestra had not played it at any of their other concerts.

Dante leaned back in his seat, his expression guarded and gaze troubled. “At least we’ll be treated to something new.” The words were incongruous to his demeanor.

Mikhail ignored him and listened intently as the various instruments joined in, giving rise to a full spectrum of chords in perfect harmony. It was a melancholy tune that hearkened back to dark times. Ghosts from Mikhail’s own past rose up to greet him. The memories uncomfortable while seated in a theater with hundreds of other people.

A solitary figure stood in the background, hard to see in the dimness near the rear of the stage. Then a bow moved across strings, and Mikhail’s heart took flight.

Valentine.

The song went from sad to heart-wrenching within a few notes. Sorrow, agony, loneliness rose on the air and filled the hall with the power to make angels weep. This was Andres Valentine at his best. He poured all of his emotions into his violin, letting the audience hear his pain and allowing them to bleed along with him.

Why would the maestro open with such a gut-twisting tale? The story of the composer’s anguish was tangible enough to touch. It floated over the crowd and whispered weeping words in their ears.

Mikhail turned to study Dante, who had gone terribly still beside him. His dark brows were pulled together in a frown, and his mouth turned down at the corners. His eyes were fathomless pools of disquiet.

For once it seemed Dante was as moved by the music as Mikhail.

By the end of the last movement, people all over the theater were dabbing their eyes with expensive handkerchiefs. Valentine held the last note out, milking the moment until the sound died a natural death.

The audience erupted into thunderous applause.

Valentine walked to the center of the stage and started off a lively melody, more suitable for a gypsy caravan than a world stage. He worked the bow across the strings as a desperate man works a fervent lover. He moved his hips and shoulders in a seductive dance as he walked back and forth across the stage, daring the audience to join in on his musical mania.

Though the selection seemed inappropriate for such an audience, it proved too much to ignore. People sat spellbound, their gazes wide and expressions eager. Mikhail wondered at the thoughts moving through their collective heads. A glance around the private boxes showed more than one being used as a dance floor for those who refused to remain in their seats. There was no question about their reactions to Valentine’s music.

A steady thump came from beside Mikhail. He turned to see Dante keeping time with his foot. If even the immovable and dispassionate Dante became affected by the music, then there was surely magic in the air.

Dante raised a brow in challenge, then went back to watching the stage. He’d never really understood or appreciated Mikhail’s fascination with Valentine’s enormous talent, and yet he’d sat beside Mikhail in more concerts than Mikhail even remembered.

Mikhail had come to believe it was all a diversion for Dante. He enjoyed traveling and exploring different locales, and if he had to sit through a concert he’d heard several times before, it was considered a small price to pay. He was a true friend—more of the brother Mikhail never had.

The music spun on, painting tales in the air with sensuous rhythms, compelling harmonies, and interesting styles. By the time the lights came up for intermission, Mikhail had run the gamut of emotions, all the way from sorrow and despair to elation and joy.

Dante rose. “I need a strong drink.”

Mikhail waved him away, wanting a moment to sit quietly with his feelings. This lonely obsession with Valentine was beginning to overtake his entire life. He’d not been home in weeks or even set foot on English soil. He had experiments to perform, research to conduct, and lives to save. None of them seemed to matter when he heard Valentine play. The rush of chemicals into his bloodstream was as addictive as opiates. Getting clean from them was going to take a strong constitution and iron will. Fortitude.

He curled his hand into a fist.

Perhaps if he had a chance to meet Valentine face-to-face, he’d feel differently. Oftentimes the illusions of a person—the fantasies drawn from smoke and mirrors—paled when introduced to reality. Mikhail didn’t want to be disappointed, but feared Valentine was as eccentric as his musical tastes suggested. Not that it was a bad thing to enjoy variety, but there were rumors Valentine was also a bit of the prima donna.

Anyone who played with such unrestrained passion had to live with gusto. It made sense.

Perhaps that was the draw for Mikhail. He loved to see passion burning in the eyes of another human. To know he wasn’t the only one whose body burned with an inner fire to create more than the world had to offer.

Dante returned to his seat, handing a glass of Scotch to Mikhail. “I thought perhaps you might need one.”

“Thank you.” Drinks weren’t allowed in the boxes or anywhere in the audience, but Dante had never let rules stop him from doing exactly as he wished, and for once Mikhail was thankful of the personality quirk.

“Why do you look as if your last drum of preservation fluid leaked all over your lab?” Dante took his seat but turned to face Mikhail. His dark eyes were full of annoyance.

“Contemplating Valentine and how I would feel afterward if I had the opportunity to meet him.”

“I believe the purpose of admiring an individual is to become excited with anticipation at the thought of being able to speak with them, to let them know of your existence.” Dante gestured with his glass, moving it up and down to indicate Mikhail’s demeanor. “You look like a man who’d rather wear the noose than meet the object of his infatuation.”

Mikhail started to make a protest but knew better than to do so. It wouldn’t wash with Dante. “I only thought that I might be disappointed if I met him. The illusion shattered.”

Dante gave Mikhail a sage expression, nodding. “You have a point. I have very rarely been impressed with persons whom I’ve built up in my mind. It leaves a rather sour taste on the tongue for such things. Personally, I’ve decided they are better avoided.”

Mikhail frowned. “When have you ever been intrigued enough by someone to build them up in your mind? You, who disdains everyone and everything?”

“Now. Now. Let’s not get testy.” Dante took a deep sip of his drink. “I’ll have you know I am a man of many lusts and varying talents. Sometimes the two intersect.”

“Sounds to me as if you’re harboring some dark secrets, my friend.” The thought of which made Mikhail uncomfortable and rather warm.

Dante shrugged in a dismissive manner.

The lights came down, and the rush for people to take their seats began. The end of intermission always had that look of the stockyard to it. People stood around the lobby too long, talking, gossiping, waiting to be seen by important people, and usually missed the first indication to make their way back to the theater proper. A mad rush ensued that clogged the aisles.

The second half of the concert was even darker than the first.

As the orchestra began the first strains of the finale, Valentine walked to the edge of the stage. “I want to thank you all for allowing me into your hearts tonight. This concert is a very special one for me, since it will be my final performance with the Kering Orchestra.”

Shocked murmurs started around the audience.

Mikhail sat forward in his seat. He’d not heard correctly. Valentine leaving the most important and influential orchestra of the age? Leaving his maestro? For what? For where?

The answers were not forthcoming as Valentine placed his violin under his chin, drew the bow across the strings, and began to play a song that tasted of freedom.

Every note, every chord spoke of the spirit soaring higher, of reaching full potential and rising up to dance in the heavens. No one hearing the song could ever be anything but moved. It was both call to action and cry of triumph.

In all the concerts, and as many times as Mikhail had heard Valentine play, he’d never experienced the full thrust of that talent when allowed to express itself unhindered by convention.

Emotions too big to remain contained in the theater flowed out of the opera house and flooded the canals and sidewalks of the city. Venice came alive with the song of uninhibited liberation.

 

 

ANDRES CAME off the stage and headed straight for the dressing room while Herr Maestro accepted his accolades from the crowd. A slow chant of “Valentine” rose up through the theater to echo through the halls.

They wanted an encore.

For once in his career, he had no intention of paying the audience the compliment. Unkind payment for their years of devotion, but he meant to stand behind his decision.

The Great Valentine was no more.

He had enough money invested in ventures throughout the world to keep him in a comfortable style for the remainder of his life. No need to live frugally. Now he had only to collect his luggage and make it out of the opera house before Herr Maestro came off the stage, searching for him.

He’d arranged for a boat to take him to the port, where he’d booked passage for New York. Opportunity and greater anonymity awaited him in America. He didn’t intend to squander it.

Nor could he live under Herr Maestro’s thumb a moment longer.

Giving up the world stage was a small price to pay to reclaim his freedom. For too long Herr Maestro’s puppet strings had strangled instead of supported Andres. Creativity and imagination had been pushed to the side to make room for avarice and greed.

Music had never been about money for Andres—it had been about his spirit. Back in his childhood, before Herr Maestro ever found him busking on the street corner, Andres’s talent had soared on the wings of the wind. He had only to close his eyes and draw the bow across the strings to become transported to another world. One where notes rode the air in brilliant colors, dancing waltzes, polkas, and reels. In those days, he’d not known the art of reading music, nor placing his compositions on lined pages.

Form, instruction, and discipline had crushed his creative expression—his magic.

It had also introduced him to the world of the dark fae, and he had no desire to live in that realm or move within those circles any longer.

Andres shoved what few articles he’d allowed himself to take out of his trunks and placed them in one small black bag. He’d have no need for others. Everything he required already awaited him in New York. Oh, he’d been so careful in his plans, waiting for the precise moment of Herr Maestro’s greatest triumph before sticking the knife in his ribs.

The man deserved so much worse.

Both he and his master did.

Andres pulled an extra hat and cloak from a hiding place behind the wardrobe. He’d stashed the articles there the day before; careful to conceal them from anyone who might be inclined to snoop through his belongings.

The nondescript brown wool would transform him from Andres Valentine, world famous violinist, to Andrew Etine, immigrant and music teacher. No one seeing him dressed as a common working-class man would believe him to be the premiere violinist in the world. Nor would they expect him to book passage in the steerage compartment on a steamship bound for America.

His humble beginnings had prepared him for much worse than any shipboard inconveniences might offer.

Andres started for the door, his hand on the knob, only seconds away from escape, when an angry voice shouted down the hallway.

You ungrateful bastard! I’ll rip your heart out for this.”

The threat made Andres swallow hard. His heart beat in sixteenth notes. Blood sang in his ears. Time to pay the devil, and there was no demon worse than Wilhelm Kering and his master.

No. He’d not face another punishment for disobedience. He was a grown man with thoughts and dreams of his own. He no longer wanted to live in fear of masters who took and gave nothing in return.

The door burst open. Herr Maestro’s face was livid with rage. His eyes glowed with anger. Even his hair stood up in violent disarray. He was the very image of a man beyond the reach of amendment.

Herr Maestro lifted a beefy arm and pointed a shaking finger in Andres’s face. “Betrayer!”

Andres took a step back, cursing himself for showing fear. “I only want my freedom.”

“I’ve given you more than that. I’ve given you the world—two worlds—and you’ve thrown it back in my face!” Herr Maestro pushed Andres back a few feet.

The blow nearly made Andres lose his breath.

He dropped his luggage, hat, and coat on the floor. He scrambled to his feet. Before he could retrieve the fallen items, Herr Maestro kicked them out of Andres’s reach.

“You are never leaving my service. I won’t let you.”

“I won’t be enslaved forever. I’d rather die first.” Andres dove for his bag but caught a kick to the chin from one of Herr Maestro’s shiny black shoes.

A maniacal light, both dark and awful, lit Herr Maestro’s eyes. “Do not tempt me.”

Andres swallowed.

Herr Maestro laughed. “What? Did you think death would release you? It will only ensure you never leave his side.”

Andres’s breath came harshly. Not even death would set him free.

He tried to step around Herr Maestro and got another shove for the effort. He tried not to cringe, to fall into old patterns. His body remembered too many nights of beatings until he was too weak to play the songs Herr Maestro wanted him to perfect. If Herr Maestro had opened his rotted heart, he’d have heard the real music Andres had played from the time he was old enough to hold a violin.

Andres should have stayed on that street corner busking for a few coins to buy a meal or earn a place to sleep. He should never have sold his soul for the price of fine clothes and luxurious surroundings. Andres knew what the so-called civilized world had yet to learn—no amount of money could turn a human heart to gold. Not a heart as black as pitch. Not one touched by the dark fae.

Herr Maestro stalked Andres across the room. None of the corners served as a good enough place to retreat until Herr Maestro’s anger was spent. If Andres waited, pretended to acquiesce, he might be able to slip out in the early hours of the morning and still make his boat.

One look at Herr Maestro’s eyes and Andres knew the anger wouldn’t be gone anytime soon. His entire future hinged on this moment.

He waited until Herr Maestro moved to the left. Andres stepped to the right. For a large man, Kering was surprisingly quick. He caught Andres around the waist and pulled him around until he faced the window—and pushed.

Glass shattered. Wood splintered and broke, falling to the stone walkway beneath. People standing below, waiting for the gondolas to take them to their lodgings, screamed in panic.

Weightlessness.

Andres had never known plunging to his death would bring him a sense of peacefulness. He closed his eyes in complete acceptance and begged God to intervene on his behalf.

Maybe then he would be free.
At the chasm between life and death lurks the art of reanimation.

When world-famous violinist Andres Valentine is pushed from a window to his death by Herr Maestro Wilhelm Kering, he is snatched back from the abyss by a doctor well-versed in reanimation. Contrary to popular belief, Andres’s life up to this point has not been filled with opulent soirees and adoring fans, but is controlled by a hellish force, a being of the dark fae—Azgarth.

Henri Vauss is a medical student who works for a man capable of raising the dead. Even though the practice is controversial, Henri sees the revolutionary side of the science and enjoys the challenges he finds in Dr. Stanslovich’s lab. Ever since taking on the case of Valentine, though, odd occurrences have infected the manor, making Henri question everything he believes about science and the world.

When Valentine confides to Henri that he wants to be rid of Azgarth’s bonds, Henri vows to find a way to free him, never expecting to get caught in the snare of the fae master.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Powerful, Well Crafted Fantasy
Overall 
 
5.0

Movie Potential - ★★★★★
Ease of reading – very easy to read and follow
Would I read it again - Definitely

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

As the title suggests, this is the first of a series, so don't expect a HEA at the end. There's a very nice HFN, but this is just the first story in a long journey and I love that. I'm often drawn to series, because I love following the same characters over and over again. I don't know – and can't say – how prominent these characters will be in future books, but I can only hope that at least Andres and Henri are back as main characters. I'd also like to know more about Mikhail and Dante's past.

~

To start with, I just have to applaud Cassie Sweet on being an incredible storyteller. Not one moment went by that I wanted to put the book down, have a break or needed time to digest what was going on, because of confusion. Everything was perfect, in that imperfect way of novels – I got what I wanted and what was promised, without a neat little, impossible, bow at the end, pretending everything was hunky dory. It's not.

This book ends on a moderate cliffhanger, the way that all good series-books should. Yet, it wasn't abrupt or sudden, it wasn't unexpected or leave me with unanswered questions. I learned everything I needed to know, in this story. The few questions I have, I'm positive will be told in future stories of the series. Why?  Because there was a constant and regular importance – minor to the main plot – that implied as much.

The characters – Dante, Mikhail, Henri and Andres – are brilliant. Each are unique and clever, witty and sophisticated in that old fashioned way of the 1800's. Dante is a brooding, dark soul, who is haunted by his past. Mikhail is the positive medical force, rooted in science, but short sighted and abrupt. He treats staff like staff, while Dante is more free-flowing with social conformity. In contrast, Henri is Mikhail's assistant; clever, feisty, talented and inventive, he is more willing to see outside the box of their social parameters. As is Andres, the violinist, who is marked by the Fae.

The chemistry between Henri and Andres is palpable, jumping off the page from their first meeting. But, even then, it's got an understated feel about it. They don't fight it in the traditional sense, but from propriety and the difference of their social classes. Right from the first, you can sense a comradery between them that is heart-warming. I was honestly worried, at one point, that Mikhail would get his way with Andres, because he was so jealous of Henri's closeness to him. As a character, Mikhail was blind as a bat to everything that should have been obvious, but I think that worked
really well. It was appropriate for his character and for his profession. At the same time, I love that Henri is more accepting, though he's sceptical and uses proven personal experiences, his trust in Andres and the concept of faith – believing in a God or Devil that cannot be seen – as further proof to understand Andres fears and the Fae world.

As a villain, Wilhelm is intriguing and a clever director. But, Azgarth is an even more impressive puppet-master. He wangled things just nicely, knowing decades in advance exactly what skills might come in useful later and how to manipulate them. He gave certain of his chosen ones the time they needed to perfect the talents they required to do his bidding. It was a low undercurrent of the novel, that occurred to me around halfway through, because of a certain conversation that I can't mention. But, once the idea came to me, I warmed to the whole idea of just how powerful the Fae may prove to be in future books. Azgarth is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

The musical and medical knowledge is second to none. I've honestly never read a book about either that has covered the subject so well, in such appropriate amounts of detail, without elaborating for their own plot needs. Similarly, there is good, historically accurate knowledge of the time, the medicine of that time and the rest, that really makes this stand out as a brilliant story. It could remain nothing more than a great historical novel, if it wasn't for the addition of the Dark Fae. This is what brings that Fantasy/Supernatural feel to it and it's cleverly done.

The world created – both the human world and that of the Fae – is extensive, well written and fully explored to my satisfaction, without any feeling of there being something missing. Every time they stepped into this alternate world, you could almost sense it coming, but could never be quite sure of what might happen. The suspense and mystery was a nice touch, that I enjoyed.

There are a few notes that I made that I can't share with you. Mostly, this was on my theories of what the story entailed, as I read it, and what might be revealed. Some of those theories have been hinted at a solution, but one hasn't been given, so I'm not going to share mine right now. I'll be waiting patiently for the next book, to see if I'm right.

~

OVERALL

I'm still digesting. There was a lot of intricacy in the story and I'm still pondering over how the events might effect what comes next. Truthfully, though, the story and writing was so fantastic that I dropped into a little world of my own. Where Fae seemed possible, where the music haunted my non-reading time, and where the concept of what might happen next is right at the front of my mind.

Reading this in one sitting, the story is a little more intense than some others in the M/M genre. Make no mistake, this is not an M/M romance. This is powerful, well crafted M/M fantasy all the way. Yes, there is a romance, but that's a secondary plot to the one that holds the story together. And for that, I'm so grateful. The sex scenes were great and realistic, but well contained to what is appropriate for the story and the plot.

Cassie Sweet has just made it onto my auto-buy list.

~

FAVOURITE QUOTE

I have two. I was too engrossed with the story to notice if others would make brilliant quotes or not.

“Andres lifted the violin and ran the bow across the strings. A melody sweet and seductive began to pour from the instrument. If Henri wanted to
give Andres a choice, he'd choose Henry. With heart and soul bleeding into the air, he played for only Henri, to show him what he'd been unable to say so far. The words were there as notes, caressing, penetrating every part of the body.”

“The love and trust reflected back from Henri's eyes was enough to make Andres want to slay dragons and defeat dark fae in sing-handed combat.”

EW
#1 Reviewer 119 reviews
Report this review Comments (0) | Was this review helpful to you? 0 0

User reviews

There are no user reviews for this listing.
Already have an account?
Ratings
Overall
Comments
Powered by JReviews

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy