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You Can Do Magic: Carnival of Mysteries
Musical prodigy Kallos Alexandrou has played his calliope for countless visitors at Errante Ame’s Carnival of Mysteries, but his one-year residency has come to an end. Scars from a terrible tragedy in his past are the only explanation he has for his loss of speech and memory, but it’s time to move on, so when a music festival sets up next to the carnival, Mr. Ame sends him off with identification, a bottomless billfold, and a set of new clothes. Outside the carnival’s perimeter, Kal finds himself in an unfamiliar world surrounded by strange instruments and vibrant people like nothing he’s ever seen. Ryan Wells is the troubled and celebrated lead singer of the metal band Backdrop Silhouette. He’s brought more than his share of baggage on the last cross-country Warped Tour, including harsh restrictions placed on him by his parole officer and the band’s label, but it’s the treatment from his bandmates that have him feeling unsettled. After a tough morning, he spots a strange young man playing carnival music on a keyboard backstage, and the sound takes him back to a particularly vulnerable time in his youth. Intrigued, Ryan asks the young man’s name, but he flees only to appear later as a replacement stagehand for the tour. An invitation from the band Hush to ride on their bus gives Ryan and Kal a welcome distraction. They find the camaraderie and support they’ve both been craving…as well as a little magic and a fresh new romance. But personal secrets and the music business make relationships difficult to maintain, and when the tour ends, Ryan and Kal will have to make a choice: move forward together on an uncertain path, or let fear keep them from trusting that sometimes you really can have everything you desire. You Can Do Magic is part of the multi-author Carnival of Mysteries Series. Each book stands alone, but each one includes at least one visit to Errante Ame’s Carnival of Mysteries, a magical, multiverse traveling show full of unusual acts, games, and rides. The Carnival changes to suit the world it’s on, so each visit is unique and special. This book contains a Depression-era calliaphone, a Ouija board with a purpose, and tour bus hijinks that will warm your heart and make you gigglesnort. Reading Summer of Hush and Brains and Brawn before this book will give you the full Warped Tour experience, but You Can Do Magic can be read as a standalone as well as the other books in the shared universe. Recommended 18+
Merrill ties her “Summer of Hush” M/M romance series to the Carnival of Mysteries shared world with this novel that offers the healing-centered bonding of rock-and-roll hearts with a touch of magical realism. Strong and silent Kal emerges from a preternaturally long year as the calliopist of a traveling carnival, with scars, amnesia and a mystical promise that he will have what he needs, directly into a roadie gig on Warped Tour, where he discovers that his instrument wrangling skills work well in the modern world. Backdrop Silhouette’s lead singer Ryan Wells is quickly smitten after finding Kal playing keyboard in their trailer, and they soon develop a mutually protective love and trust that allows them each to engage their past trauma and follow their dreams.

Merrill deftly uses the standard format of romance—alternating perspectives of the two mains—to reflect the difference between Kal’s inner and outer expression, allowing her to share Kal’s perspective on modern life from his place outside of normal time and his slowly returning memories of childhood trauma well before he’s ready to speak, while also leaning into the mystical strangeness he presents to the outside.

Playful tour-bus camaraderie, casual acceptance of gay relationships, and a general aesthetic of goodwill among the members of Hush, with whom Kal and Ryan end up spending most of the book, set an overall light tone that balances the trauma work that Merrill sets as the primary challenge for the characters. Secondary characters are thoughtfully developed, even for readers who have not met them in earlier volumes: music lovers will see a lot of their joy reflected here, and plot arcs around band drama, record-label rules, and creative expression create an enjoyable ensemble story separate from the romance arc. The relationship between Ryan, his dead best friend’s witchy aunts, and the carnival feels emotionally convincing compared to the rest of the characterization, but otherwise the whole novel pulls together organically.

Takeaway: Sweet gay romance with a focus on growth after trauma and a mystic, musical touch.

Comparable Titles: Cecilia Tan’s Taking the Lead, Ella Frank and Brooke Blaine’s Halo.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A