Come For the Aesthetic, Stay For the Feels: Evocation by S.T. Gibson

Posted 3rd May 2024 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 5 Comments

Evocation (The Summoner’s Circle, #1) by S.T. Gibson
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Gay alcoholic MC, bisexual MC, Black MC, polyamory, minor trans character
Protagonist Age: 29; mid-to-late 20s for the other two
PoV: Third-person, past tense; multiple PoVs
Published on: 28th May 2024
ISBN: 1915202744

From The Sunday Times bestselling author of B&N's best books of 2022 A Dowry of Blood, comes a spellbinding and vibrant new series.

The Devil knows your name, David Aristarkhov.

As a teen, David Aristarkhov was a psychic prodigy, operating under the shadow of his oppressive occultist father. Now, years after his father’s death and rapidly approaching his thirtieth birthday, he is content with the high-powered life he’s curated as a Boston attorney, moonlighting as a powerful medium for his secret society.

But with power comes a price, and the Devil has come to collect on an ancestral deal. David’s days are numbered, and death looms at his door.

Reluctantly, he reaches out to the only person he’s ever trusted, his ex-boyfriend and secret Society rival Rhys, for help. However, the only way to get to Rhys is through his wife, Moira. Thrust into each other’s care, emotions once buried deep resurface, and the trio race to figure out their feelings for one another before the Devil steals David away for good…

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~when you get brunch in the divorce and your ex shows up anyway
~many magics, pulled from real-world occult
~characters Actually Talking about their feelings!
~some people are just too wealthy
~what’s a deal with a devil you didn’t sign?

I’m not immediately sure what to say about Evocation beyond the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of it. A slightly slow start belied the emotional whirlwind Gibson swept her characters (and me!) up in, and I do think that’s where Evocation really shines – in its emotions, and its characters. This is a much more character-driven book than it is plot-driven – there is plot, but most of it doesn’t begin to feel very urgent until quite close to the end.

In other words, Evocation is for those of us who want the aesthetic, the vibes, and the delicious, meaty emotions tangling our morally-grey characters together.

Bon appétit!

The minutes crawled by on bruised hands and knees.

Not quite as decadent as Dowry of BloodEvocation comes very close, and the contemporary setting might be more to some readers’ tastes than the historical one of Dowry. There’s an interesting contrast between the familiar everyday concerns of rush hour traffic and brunch, and the world of the occult lying just a breath away from them. The male-only Society David and Rhys both belong to was actually the least interesting aspect of this for me – it was a nice surprise to see that trans men can join, but I admit to having little patience for or interest in this kind of ‘old boys club’, especially in a modern setting, and the Society’s obvious High/Ceremonial Magic influences were actively boring. (Though I am not at all surprised at Gibson’s appreciation for the aesthetic or practice – it fits the interests she’s been very open about to a t!) Maybe Gibson realised that most readers aren’t going to be enthralled by descriptions of Ceremonial Magic rituals, because we actually see very little of it – if I remember correctly, we never get a full ritual on-page.

Much more interesting were the other magical players in this secret world – David’s chaos magician half-sister, for example, who I hope we see more of in future books; and of course Moira, who works with astrology and, like David, can see ghosts and spirits. I actually wish we’d gotten more astrological theory – a lot of the magic is sort of just presented to the reader, when digging into the hows of it all could have been fun. I’m a nerd for this sort of thing, though, so I don’t know if that’ll bother other readers.

(I do feel like Evocation expects readers to already be familiar, at least somewhat, with real-world occult practices and branches – if I didn’t already know how Ceremonial Magic worked, what it was, I really wouldn’t understand what the Society was on about, or how different what they do is from what David’s sister and Moira do. And that…not messiness, but mix of magical traditions, might be why the ending really didn’t work for me – it was all about magic, but what kind? How/why did it work like it did? Gah!)

David had never been in a college frat, but he had been in a men’s acapella group at Williams, and that was basically the same thing.

None of this matters that much, though. The magic is really just backdrop against which the characters shine. Even the struggle over the succession of the Society is really just an excuse to throw David and Rhys together (seriously, we never even see any attempt at campaigning or politicking from either of them), as is the mysterious curse on David growing stronger as his 30th birthday approaches. It all just serves as a great big mixing spoon to stir David, Rhys, and Moira together!

she wanted nothing between them but darkness and devotion.

Polyamory is difficult to write well, I think – maybe nearly as tricky as it is to live it! – but Gibson does a really excellent job in Evocation (unsurprisingly, since she’s written it excellently before). David and Rhys used to be a couple, but that was over a long time ago; now Rhys is married to Moira, who is hands down my favourite of the three. In trying to figure out David’s curse, Rhys starts catching feelings for David again (although did they ever go away, really?), and watching him and Moira talk about that and feel their feelings about it was just superb. Rhys feels guilty! Moira is unsure and upset, but open and honest about it with Rhys and with herself! David is a MessTM and also terrified of wrecking things between Rhys and Moira – and of wrecking his own relationships with them both! There are delicious, messy Feels everywhere, but paired with Actual Communication, which like a fine wine complementing a wonderful meal, raises the whole experience to another level.

(And I don’t even like wine!!!)

In a twist that I find kind of hilarious, my favourite line in this triangle of Feels is the one between David and Moira. Slight spoiler under the cut: View Spoiler »

I will say that I thought Rhys was the weakest of our three protagonists: Moira feels like a complete character, and David started strong and got better as he underwent emotional development over the course of the book – but Rhys…didn’t have a whole lot of personality, to me. I think we were told about him much more than we actually saw him being the things we were told; for example, we get this beautiful passage from Moira’s pov;

She knew exactly what Rhys was when she married him, down to the darkest corners of his insatiable heart. She adored him like this, selfish ambition laid bare by his love for her. Truth be told, Rhys could be a bit of a monster when it came to getting what he wanted, but he was her monster, and what he wanted was her happiness.

but we never actually see Rhys being ‘a bit of a monster’. (Which is a shame, because those kind of characters are often fascinating, and I feel like Gibson could nail it if she’d gone for show-not-tell.) Maybe because, if we did, we wouldn’t like him very much? I don’t know, because I have no idea what level of monster we’re talking about here. But I was left a bit sceptical that both David and Moira could love this man, because he just…left no impression on me. I wasn’t seeing what they were seeing!

two men who had once been as close to each other as blood and breath

The deus ex machina ending – the climax of David’s curse, basically – I loved all the Feels that went into it, but I didn’t love the magic, the actual ‘solution’, of it. I haven’t been able to stop turning it over and over in my brain since I finished reading the book, because it just doesn’t make sense to me. Mild spoiler: View Spoiler »

BUT! None of of my nitpicking – about Rhys’ character, or the ending – changes the fact that I had a great time with Evocation. I said earlier that this book is for those of us who love the vibes, the aesthetic, and the emotions, and if you’re good with a low-plot, high-character development novel, with gorgeous prose and some truly glorious Feels?

Then you’ll have a great time with this one too.

Banner artwork by Elena Zakharchuk

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5 responses to “Come For the Aesthetic, Stay For the Feels: Evocation by S.T. Gibson

    • Sia

      There’s very little of the club/Society really – it’s set dressing, basically. Thankfully! We don’t actually have to see lots of old boys being old boys…

  1. Lauren Always Me

    I’m really looking forward to this given how much I liked A Dowry of Blood.

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