Representation: Queer (Male) Protagonists, Secondary genderqueer/non-binary character
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Fantasy
Buy on Amazon, The Book Depository
Aggy Stephenson is a funeral bidder, hand-delivering invitations to funerals in the latest fashion among city elite. His work takes him to the house of Laurel St. John, a man as handsome as he is rich, and as frequently bereaved. Despite the circumstances of their meeting, Aggy quickly falls for Laurel's strange thrall. But they stand on either side of a barrier: wealth, status—and death.
Dilettante, socialite, and vampire, little surprises Laurel—until he meets Aggy. But Laurel isn't the only creature with his eye on Aggy, and not everyone is restricted to hunting at night. When Aggy misses a delivery, Laurel wonders if his love has tired of a life of darkness. Then Aggy's name appears on the list of the nearly departed intended for Laurel's plate, and the sun isn't enough to stop Laurel's wrath.
Can Aggy and Laurel keep walking the thin line between the living and the dead? Or will the city force them to choose between existence—and each other?
The Burial Club is the second story from Love Has Claws, a speculative romance trilogy linked by the town of Lastings. They are standalone stories, but your experience may be enhanced by reading Nine Years of Silver (Love Has Claws #1).
Content Warnings: bloody violence; on- and off-screen murder; vampire-specific dub con; death, grief, and mourning; past death of a sibling; vomiting; workplace harassment; abduction.
The second in the Love Has Claws series, Burial Club is set in the same world as Nine Years of Silver, but slightly earlier in the timeline, in a different place and with different characters. None of this disappointed me, since Nine perfectly encapsulated Briar and Quinn’s story; a direct sequel, or any other continuation of their story, wasn’t necessary. Nine was flawless and couldn’t be improved upon.
Like Quinn and Briar, Aggy grew up in Lastings, a sea-side community known for being a place of witches and strange magics. Aggy bears no love for Lastings, though, and left as soon as he could; now he lives in the big city, delivering funeral invitations in the form of biscuits on behalf of the funeral home he works for.
Yes, you heard me. The funeral invites are biscuits. Specifically, sweet biscuits (what Americans call cookies, I think) with the name of the deceased spelled out in cursive icing. It’s the kind of weird, delightful worldbuilding tidbit that I simply adore, a bit of gothic whimsy that beautifully sets the expectations for the relationship at the heart of this story.
For Aggy, you see, meets Laurel – officially The Most Beautiful Man – via his deliveries. Laurel, it seems, is constantly bereaved, receiving funeral biscuits on an almost weekly basis. Which makes Aggy’s interest in him awkward, to say the least – how can you possibly ask out someone so deeply in mourning, especially when you’re the one always bearing news of another death? Laurel must despise the sight of Aggy’s face as the herald of yet another loved one’s passing.
This becomes deliciously hilarious when we learn that Laurel is, in fact, a vampire. If anyone’s a spectre of death in this story, it definitely isn’t Aggy! Seeing the situation first through Aggy’s eyes, then getting the truth of it from Laurel, is a role-reversal that probably shouldn’t tickle me quite as much as it does.
I guess I’ve read so many (badly written) paranormal romances that I was braced for Aggy to be a delicate, innocent little flower. I should have had more faith in Foye; Aggy is, in fact, a headstrong, amoral, vicious-when-necessary young man, who unrepentantly steals from the dead who pass through the funeral home he works in, and works odd nights as a pick-pocket outside the city’s theatres. I’m not sure we’d get on in real life, but he makes for a wonderful character to read about; wry, bitter, a little too impulsive and fearless for his own good, snarky, and – when he finds his heart stolen – possessed of a stunning depth of devotion and adoration that I very much approved of. His dynamic with Laurel is a work of art; I have no words to express how delighted I was to see Laurel’s more feral aspects more than matched by Aggy’s own…undomesticated side. And I don’t mean that as some kind of euphemism for sex; although the sex scenes are deeply erotic, I’m talking about how, when presented with Laurel’s claws, Aggy responds with fascination rather than fear. More than once, Laurel comes across as the more civilised of the two of them – although only barely, and only occasionally.
Really, they’re beautifully matched.
I don’t want to talk much about the plot, both because readers should discover the twists and turns for themselves…and also because, to be honest, the plot wasn’t really what held my attention here. There’s a tiny hint of insta-love to Laurel and Aggy’s connection, and Aggy’s getting himself into trouble only to receive a deux ex machina rescue gets kind of repetitive after the second or third time. But I still loved this book. The writing is every bit as luscious as the baked goods at its core, and the characters and their dynamic are fabulously unconventional. Some readers might be slightly troubled by how indifferent Aggy is to death and murder – he’s not a sadist, just genuinely doesn’t seem to care, and that’s not a character type I get to see too often. Personally, I found Aggy and Laurel as characters interesting enough to overcome the slightly weaker plot.
Honestly, for a story about killers and deaths, this was a weirdly delightful and comforting little book? I’m not sure how to put it into words, because despite the subject matter, this very much became my comfort read when I was too mentally drained to handle anything else. Which is not to say Burial Club is simplistic – it isn’t. It just has a sweetly hypnotic quality completely at odds with its subject matter.
I can only put it down to magic.
The ending leaves several fairly major questions unresolved, so I dearly hope that Foye writes more about Aggy and Laurel at some point, or at least explains the workings of the Tenebrosity Club in some other story. At the same time, I’m kind of happy to handwave those issues in favour of the HEA we’re given, which may have been a bit of the point.
Also, no spoilers, but this book officially includes the most unique bestowed-upon magical ability/superpower I’ve ever seen, and I loved it. I need more people to read this one just so I have someone to giggle with about The Thing, okay?
…What are you still doing here? Go buy the book!