In many parts of Cal Rindon, homes are built side by side on blocks. Basements are important and usually divided by a brick wall. In some older locations, there are connections between these basements though they are small and largely impassable due to time. But Manny uses basements constantly to travel unseen to different blocks – all with the use of magic.
Wish is often along on these treks and finds them both interesting and disturbing since anything can be in these basements. Some are dry and clean, while others are dank, moldy, even vermin-ridden. Yuck!
Here’s an example from Wish’s first encounter with Manny:
We ducked into an alley and descended to a building basement, whereupon Mandeheim withdrew a set of keys and unlocked the door for us. He ushered me into the shadowy depths of the musty underground room, cluttered with half-seen junk. The squeak of a rat drew my attention. The unseen vermin lurked among old furniture and boxes of long-discarded belongings. He’d spoken like his rooms were better than this.
“Thought you might have a nicer place.”
“I do, but I’d like to interview you before we proceed.” Mr. Mandeheim presented himself before me, his hands thrust into his pockets and feet at shoulder width. He grabbed the paper sticking out of my pocket. “I suppose you’ve determined who I am?”
I nodded without answer. Best to wait this out before I demanded my pay and left. I’d followed him this far for that much.
His dark-eyed gaze pierced my defenses, and my nerve wilted some. “Good job back there. I should have warned you about the possibilities. You mentioned more work. I suppose we might work together.”
I stepped back and raised my hands. “That’s an assumption in your, uh, situation. Not sure I want anything to do with the danger around you.”
Mr. Mandeheim sniffed. “I suppose you carry your meager belongings in your pockets because you live in safe circumstances. Probably living in the old Delliwig estates, I shouldn’t wonder. Is that any safer than me? At least I pulled you out of a situation back there.” He waved a finger at me as he paced, his long face draw with tension. “More than one save from me today, Mister…”
“Ackford. Forgive me my rudeness.” He deserved my name, at the least. “Wishton Ackford. Sorry, I can’t afford cards these days.” With a sidelong gaze, I continued, “How did you know where I lived, Mr. Mandeheim?”
“First of all, call me Manny.”
“Very well, Manny.” Coin would be nice before dark.
He returned my acknowledgment with a crisp nod. “As to your home, you’ve a bit of chalk on the edge of your shoe from the courtyards in that area.” He shrugged. “Observation and knowledge of the city is, or was, a specialty of my previous position.” He nodded toward my paper. “That story’s not accurate. Not even close.”
I cleared my throat. “Not my business, I suppose. Other than what’s public about it. I’m no one to judge, in my present circumstances.”
He raised a finger. “Back to the question of proposed partnership. You’re a sharp fellow. Got in and out of that shop in one piece. With a bit of training, you could be a solid asset. What are your skills?”
“Worked in one of the writing houses until six months back. I can write ads, even meet clients.” What was I saying? I turned away to hide my uncertainty and listened for more rats. “Are we going to stand here all day and night, or are you going to pay me for my near injury, at the very least?”
He chuckled, and coin jingled in his pocket. “To be sure, I do owe something for that business. But come, tell me first of your observations.”
I faced Mr. Mandeheim—Manny—again. “Don’t see that you’ve much to suspect of the man you’re watching. He left with three flowers, and that’s all. Then I got your package. But you know how that turned out. What was that thing?” I swallowed at the thought of what could have happened. Maybe walking away was best, but I needed the money from this job.
Manny paced again as he jingled coins in his pocket absentmindedly. He understood my plight.
“Somebody doesn’t like me for certain. Not sure how I was spotted when I sent the package to myself. It’s all part of what I’m tracking. That fellow is more than he seems, and somebody switched packages in route. Not him, though.” The former sniffer rubbed his chin. “Flowers, eh? Must be some kind of message.” He glanced my way, his eyes narrowed. No doubt his spy instincts rolled the idea over several times. “What were they?”
I shrugged. “One was a bright red tulise, the second a yellow caranelle, and the third none other than a deep crimson rose. At least that’s what I thought at first. When I asked the clerk, I was told it was a maringias, as if it were something special. He said they weren’t for sale like the others, that they were special for a client.”
Manny’s eyebrows climbed his suddenly furrowed forehead. “Maringias? What are…? Hmm.” He eyed me again with the sudden grin. “Good work there, though your interest likely got you that booby-trapped package.”
“That flower is the answer, at least in part.” Manny paced, his hands clasped behind his back. “Let’s see, he came out with the package in his hands.” He stopped and squinted at the dark ceiling. “He wore something dark tucked in his lapel.
Could’ve been a maringias.”
As he considered the question of the flowers, I turned away again and glanced at my paper. The article related how the Empire’s sniffers suffered a disaster, at least for them. Details were few except that a top sniffer, Mr. Mandeheim, had been retired after the incident, which left the sniffers otherwise shorthanded. Nothing specific. Spies likely never mentioned much unless it was useful to them in some way.
“So, what happened?” I asked.
“What’s that?” Manny paused in his ruminations.
“This.” I half-turned, and his eyes trailed to the newspaper I held up in my hand.
“Not an accident, I can tell you that.” He crossed his arms. I suddenly wondered what the term reformed mage meant. “It was a raid. There was a curse bomb. I barely cleared the magic released. Now I suffer from a malady, but three of my cohorts—” He pointed a finger at me. “No talking about it to others, mind you. I lost Adrienne. She was dear to me.” He shoved his hands in his pockets like a schoolboy caught in some prank. He looked away and this neck visibly constricted as he swallowed his emotions, then cleared his throat. “Yes. Well. Anyway, I’m trying to rectify the situation if I can.” He glanced at me, then away. “If I break this open, then I’ll be retained at my old position, my name cleared. We wouldn’t be partners after that. However, I can pay you for your help until then, or if it goes longer, we can work other cases for private citizens.” He grinned at me. “The wealthier the better, right?”
A grunt of doubt rose in my throat. “Perhaps.” I folded the paper. “You can count on me to hold my tongue.”
Manny faced me again, hands still in his pockets, but his feet spread wide. The stance left me wary somehow. “If someone questions you, just tell them the truth. Don’t worry about me, just yourself. Got it?”
“Got it. What about these flowers?” Talk of being questioned raised the point of danger that unsettled my empty stomach. My knees wobbled a bit, and my head spun. Maybe it was just my long time without a solid meal. I leaned against an old bookshelf and hoped a rat wouldn’t assault me. “What about that meal?”
Manny’s tone shifted to concern. “Here, how rude of me. Now that we’re on terms, as it were, I should take you on. This way.”
He waved his hand toward the mass of refuse and moldy stench. We reached the far end, where darkness reigned, and fear of rats left my stomach less settled than ever. The former sniffer felt along the wall in several places and muttered a few words. Stone grated on stone, and light greeted our faces through growing cracks.
With a step back, I gasped at a possible structural collapse.
I squinted into the sudden glimmer as the cracks widened into a solid aperture, down a short corridor which emptied into a tidy basement. With a deep breath of decidedly fresher air, I followed the ex-sniffer as I gazed at the portal through which we traveled. At the end, I found Manny working his magic as he waved a wand, and the stone grated again, closing off the rank smells along with my fear of rats from the other basement. Funny that rats certainly roamed my building, but alone in this basement with a virtual stranger, I balked at the thought of them.
Manny offered me a slight grin. “Must not let the vermin loose in the building, eh?” Again, he led me away through the basement and up a stairwell. “The house is nice and well-kept by the owner.” The stair creaked under us, as if to contradict
him. “But it’s being watched by someone, so I come in this way.”
I hesitated on the stairwell. Danger whispered through my thoughts again. “Watched by whom?”
An arch-mage can handle almost anything. Unless he’s cursed, lost his job and facing an unknown enemy.
Arch-mage Manny Mandeheim fell under a curse, watched his fiancé die, and then lost his job as a spy. So what’s an arch-mage to do? Start his own magical investigation service while he works to clear his good name and maybe avenge his lost love. With his very un-magical partner, Wish Ackford, Manny discovers the menace of a much larger conspiracy than he expected looming behind his curse. Suddenly, the limitations from the hex leave him at a distinct disadvantage as he and Wish investigate.
Assassins lurk at every corner or in every tram car. The threat of an unknown mastermind with murky intentions lingers just out of sight. A questionable source offers the hint of a secret order hounding Manny’s footsteps. A murder leads to wrenching discoveries.
Nothing an arch-mage can’t handle…
Unless the curse limits how much magic he can use or kills him outright.
A mixture of Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter, The Order of the Dark Rose is set in an alternate fantasy world where magic is both commonplace and dangerous. Mysteries abound in this original, new fantasy from P. H. Solomon, author of the award-winning, best-selling epic fantasy series, The Bow of Hart Saga.
Can Manny survive long enough to break his curse? Or will the arch-mage’s hidden foe escape him? Click the Your Favorite Retailer button to enter this high concept world of magic and fantasy to discover more about Manny and Wish.
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Reviews for The Order of the Dark Rose:
Reviewed By Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite
The Order of the Dark Rose is the first novel in The Cursed Mage Case Files series by P. H. Solomon. This epic fantasy is set in a world where magic is real and integrated into daily life. Manny Mandeheim, an arch-mage, was once a spy, but all that changed when his fiancé passed away; he was cursed and lost his social standing. In order to redeem his name, he opened his own investigation company with Wish Ackford and tried to look for a reason why he was cursed. However, the more they delved deeper into the mystery, the more complex it became. Before Manny and Wish knew it, they were knee-deep in a conspiracy that could very much end their lives. They were nowhere near figuring out who was the person behind this yet the danger only increased. All they needed was a single nudge in the right direction. But would they get it? Or was it already too late?
The Order of the Dark Rose gave me serious Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie vibes, and I loved it. P. H. Solomon’s narrative style is very similar to these literary legends. I could find similarities in the way the author introduced the action, pushed it forward, and made it an integral part of the story. The mystery and suspense were alive in the story, and that was all thanks to how the author handled the main plot while supporting it with equally important subplots. The flow was incredible, the world-building was “magical” and the character development was brilliant as well. There was hardly a moment when I was frustrated with Manny or wanted him to do something differently. He was smart, he was calculating, and he was ready to do something about his predicament. Overall, a great start to a fantastic new series!