Title: The Charlatan’s Conquest (A Phantom Fixers Story)
Author: Vivien Dean
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspun Beyond
Length: 216 Pages
Category: Paranormal, Ghosts/Spirits
At a Glance: The Charlatan’s Conquest is a sweet, slow-burn romance with some paranormal oomph.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: With love and ghosts, the challenge is figuring out what’s real.
Software engineer Cruz Guthrie needs money for his sister’s cancer treatments. He needs it so badly he’s willing to stand in for a ghost hunter friend and investigate a millionaire’s supposed specters. It should be an easy gig—after all, nobody thinks the haunting is real.
Neurological researcher Brody Weber is furious that Cruz would take advantage of Brody’s father. But his mind changes when spirits manifest—and he realizes Cruz genuinely wants to help. When they learn the paranormal activity centers on Brody, Cruz is willing to fight to free Brody from the entities determined to make his life miserable. With a little help from friends and family—both living and dead—they must figure out why Brody is attracting spirits and how to banish them. Only then can they pursue a future together.
Review: Dreamspinner Press met the demand for category romance with its Dreamspun Desires house line, and now, for those of us who enjoy when our fiction delves into the realms of the strange and unusual, there’s Dreamspun Beyond, all the romance you could possibly want but with a supernatural twist.
Vivien Dean’s The Charlatan’s Conquest is the second release in this fledgling line, and appears it may be the first book in a planned series set within this -verse. Dean fulfilled my expectations of a paranormal storyline in which two people falling for each other is its driving force, and I was drawn into things from the opening few paragraphs that preface Chapter One, a scene that, as it turns out, happens a bit farther along in the story. Here there be ghosts, of course, but where the premise could have adhered to the ‘been there, read that’ haunting of Loren Weber’s house, the author leads readers to the fork in the plot road, and we end up somewhere just a bit more unique and unexpected.
Loren has tried multiple times to convince expert in all things ghostly, Etienne Newman, that there is paranormal activity in his home. The problem is that there isn’t, but Etienne hasn’t had much success in convincing Loren otherwise, to the point that Loren is willing to pay Etienne an exorbitant amount of money—an amount Etienne threw out in an effort to dissuade Loren, never expecting the man to agree to it—for one more attempt at exorcising his unwanted specters. This is where Cruz Guthrie is thrown into the story’s spotlight. As Etienne’s best friend, Cruz is persuaded to step in, in the injured Etienne’s place, to go through the motions of evicting Loren’s unwelcome, albeit non-existent, house guests—because the twenty thousand dollars Loren is willing to shell out will go a long way towards helping Cruz’s family.
The red flags go up when Loren’s semi-estranged son, Brody, discovers that his father is still pursuing the ridiculous notion that ghosts exist, let alone that they’re squatting in his childhood home, and Loren is shelling out ridiculous sums of money on top of it. Brody’s set to expose Cruz for the charlatan he quite literally is—until strange things, inexplicable things, happen that cause the skeptical scientist in Brody to reexamine not only his beliefs but some of the things he’s spent the decades since his mom’s death convincing himself couldn’t and shouldn’t be possible, as well. Brody learns something about himself that explains so much, something I could see playing into the future of the series, and I’m looking forward to it with the hopes we also get to learn more about Etienne.
Doing what Cruz knows is the wrong thing, but doing it anyway because his reasons couldn’t be more unselfish, provides for the tension in the story; although, it’s a lowkey tension, which figures as a mainstay of this line of romantic fiction. If there’s conflict, it’s typically short-lived, so readers who enjoy a book that doesn’t delve into the over-angsty ought to appreciate this. Like anyone who is keeping secrets, Cruz fears how Brody will react when it comes to light that Cruz is more computer than ghost literate, and has only trained and practiced just enough with Etienne (and Etienne’s highly qualified accomplice) to pass as a practitioner of the supernatural. Cruz is such a white knight that it didn’t take long for Brody (or this reader) to be charmed by his kindness and warmth.
I enjoyed the paranormal elements of this story. I wouldn’t say they are frightening—not in my own estimation of scary, anyway—as much as they are fascinating, but their true purpose, apart from adding something fun to the mix, is to unite Brody and Cruz, which it succeeds in doing. Watching them fall for each other is a sweet and heartwarming journey through some more difficult external challenges. I will say that there were some things I had to let go and suspend my disbelief of, namely the connection between Loren, Brody, and the ghosts (specifics would be spoilery), but that’s based in my own pragmatism rather than a criticism of the story itself. I mean, if you can’t suspend some disbelief while reading a ghost story, when can you?
As is the goal of any romance, in the end I was glad to see Cruz and Brody get their happy beginning. The Charlatan’s Conquest is both charming and clever, a slow burn romance with a paranormal twist that keeps it from becoming anything but ordinary. As a first time reading of an author’s work goes, I was impressed by how effortlessly I was drawn in by Dean’s voice and characters. The pages flew by as I became more engrossed in the story, which is always a reliable marker of a good reading experience.
You can buy Charlatan’s Conquest here: