Title: Harley Merlin and the Cult of Eris
Author: Bella Forrest
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
What’s it about: After the murder of the President of the United Covens of America, the Vice President steps up and rallies the magical world against Katherine. Harley hones her new-found skills, which includes a form of Empathy called reverse Empathy. She uses her own feelings against others, and tries it on O’halloran, who in turn reveals that there is a mole in the Cult of Eris.
With Jacob and the Rag Team’s assistance, Harley and Wade break Finch out of Purgatory, and thanks to Imogene, Harley finds the perfect excuse to get out from under Levi, the Coven’s interim Director who continues to threaten to lock her up. Finch finds his way to the Bestiary, with the rest of the team, when suddenly the power goes out. While the team works to keep the beasts in the boxes, Tobe, and Harley flip switches according to Finch’s order, overpowering the Gemini Device that was being used by a Cultist by the name of Thessaly Crux, an Electro, and restoring the power to the Bestiary. This gives Finch some points with the Rag Team and Tobe, who continue to be cautious of him, but they trust him just a little more.
Upon their return to the infirmary, Finch tells them that he has the perfect disguises for Harley and himself in the form of Pieter and Volla Mazinov, Russian siblings who disappeared in the arctic circle on a mission gone wrong and are presumed dead. Krieger programs the Ephemeras, two gem-like stone that are able to hold Chaos, to accept shapeshifting and fire abilities. The team runs through the plan, and Santana calls an Orisha to take on Harley’s form. To get into the cult, they have to find Naima, the lioness Purge Beast, who is known as the Recruiter. Garrett is the one that gives them the information–Naima can be found in Salem, so Wade, Harley, Finch and Isadora portal there. Finch explains that the Cult is in an inter-dimensional pocket off of Dry Tortugas, which belonged to his great-grandfather Drake Shipton, who willed it to Katherine. Alas this information, along with all of the other island that Drake Shipton owned, never made it to public knowledge.
Harley and Finch, in their forms as Volla and Pieter, create a diversion that piques Naima’s interest, and at first she’s not willing to take them into the Cult since they have been having issues with spies. Since they’re not on Katherine’s personal list of people, Naima is about to say no, but Harley spins a story about having intel from the National Council about the mole in Katherine’s midst. That is enough for Naima to agree to take them and also reveal that she was the one that killed the Librarian. She takes them to a hotel, which is a Cult front, and through a pentagram that disintegrates them painfully, known as the Strainer.
The Strainer takes them to the Cult’s inter-dimensional pocket known as Eris Island, but they arrive as an mis-mash of the Mazinovs and themselves, so they quickly shift themselves back into the Mazinovs. Naima then reveals that they will have to undergo three trials, during which they can be killed. In the first round, Harley takes on Kenneth Willow, while Finch fights Shinsuke, but ultimately both of them win and get a chance to stay for the night. Thessaly Crux, known as Tess, takes them around the Island, showing them everything, including the play arena, where they keep humans as guinea pigs for spells and other things.
The second trial involves Purge Beasts that no one has been able to tame thus far. Harley takes on a Gargoyle and makes it her lap dog, at which point Finch comments that she has the same skills as Katherine and Drake Shipton, who used the Gargoyles to protect his trade ships. They surprise Naima, but are granted the ability to stay one more day on the Island, during which Harley impersonates Tess to wander about, and Finch realizes that he really cares about Harley.
Before the third trial, Harley and Finch speak about Hiram, with her telling him stories from her memories of their father. During the third trial, they face an interview with Katherine, and really Harley’s ballsy act as Volla is what saves them. As a result, they are forced to get the molten-gold brand of the Cult of Eris–the Apple of Discord.
Once they have the full access to the Cult, they wander around looking for Harley’s mother’s spirit. They find themselves in Katherine’s office where Finch knew she had last kept it, and Tess catches them, immediately being suspicious of them. They make up some story about taking a few wrong turns while looking for Katherine, so Tess takes them to the War Room. Katherine asks them about the mole, to which Harley replies that she doesn’t know, but her Empathy picks up dread coming from Tess.
They wander about the island, and Finch takes Harley to Katherine’s beach house. Inside, they find Katherine speaking to the body of Drake Shipton, at which point Finch reveals that Drake Shipton had Katherine lock his spirit to the earth so that she could resurrect him. Unfortunately, the Necromancer that Katherine hired to resurrect Drake botched the job, and so she killed the Necromancer, while Drake is stuck in a shriveled body. Instead the siblings follow Shinsuke to a training room, where they talk to him and tell him that his father tried to get him back by striking a deal with Katherine. Shinsuke, in turn, reveals that Hester’s spirit is being kept in the Drake Shipton Library under lock and key, and that Katherine is already preparing for the fourth ritual, which includes getting into the Bestiary the San Diego Coven.
Finch and Harley go to the Drake Shipton Library, knocking the guards outside unconscious, before entering. They search for and find Hester’s spirit, but before they can exit, Tess finds them. She demands to know what they are doing and whether they are working for the National Council. A discussion starts up between them, as Finch plays the card that they know she is the mole. At first, she tries to deny it, but ultimately Tess reveals that she and her sister, Larissa, joined the cult willingly, wanting the fame and glory promised by Katherine. Then, Larissa died during a mission, and Katherine didn’t care, and wouldn’t allow Tess to get her body. At that point, Tess realized that Katherine was using people. The Guards, Naima, and Katherine arrive, demanding answers. Tess turns against them, but Finch tells Katherine that Tess is the mole and create a hologram to prove their innocence.
Katherine takes the Mazinovs to her office, and after a conversation, lets Volla leave. Harley figures out the secret entrance to the Library, and gets her mom’s spirit. One her way back out through the tunnel, the ghosts in the tunnel make it difficult for her, but she calls her mom out of the jar for help. Hester and Harley talk, and Hester gives her the secret to controlling the Dark affinity–feeding it when it demands to be fed. Katherine realises that Pieter is really Finch, and lays out her plan about Harley. She then attempts to bribe him with an offer—resurrecting Adley in return for him by her side. As tempting as that sounds, Finch turns her down. Katherine has Wade brought in, surprising Finch, but before she can do anything, Naima arrives to tell Katherine that Harley has escaped.
While Isadora and Harley hatch a plan to save Wade, he and Finch work together to take down Kenneth Willow, who was left to watch them. Shinsuke arrives with another guy to take them, but instead ends up going with them to the San Diego Coven. Finch knows his mother probably has back-up plans, which Shinsuke confirms. Katherine had murdered Tess, and figured that a “traitor’s ghost” qualifies as the worst enemy. As a result, they head after Katherine into the land of Erebus–Tartarus–where they fight a bunch of Purge Monsters. Alas, they cannot break through the bubble created by Katherine, in which she kills Kenneth Willow as the blood of an evil child is the only one that can kill a Spirit.
Harley summons Erebus by memory in exchange for Katherine’s life, and Naima lays down her life to protect Katherine, who in turn counteracts the summon with a different deal. The team runs back to the portal, but Shinsuke falls and no one is able to save him. Back the SDC, they tell Alton the story, and Finch refuses to return to Purgatory. Suddenly both of Santana’s Orishas come back to her, and Levi storms the room in which the team meets. He slaps Atomic Cuffs on variou speople of the Rag Team, but Harley manages to to break hers, when suddenly an earthquake rocks the coven. The Bestiary is under attack, so Jacob portals Finch and Harley to the Bestiary, where they find Echinda gone. Levi shows up at the Bestiary, so Harley, Finch, and Jacob step back into a portal, leaving the coven, and finding themselves in the Smith’s back yard.
My Verdict: I’m still skeptical about Finch, even though he proved himself to the team. Levi on the other hand is such a pain in the behind, and I wonder what his deal is.
The book is entertaining, but I feel like the whole Tess-discovering-them ordeal is a bit too forced. She just happens to come in both times? What business did she have in both the office and the Library that she ended up there both times? It seems that the whole point of this Tess business was to prove the point that Tess was the mole in the Cult, and to get her to explain her story and reasons, not that it really matters to the whole overall story line.
And now I wonder, what do the Smiths make of Finch, Harley and Jacob dropping out of the sky on their backyard? I guess we’ll find out in the next installment.