Shades of Sepia (The Sleepless City #1), Anne Barwell

Shades of SepiaRating: 4 Stars

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Genre:  Gay Romance

Tags: Paranormal – Vampires, Weres, Other, Mystery, Series, Contemporary Setting 

Length:  210 Pages

Reviewer: Kazza K

Purchase At: Dreamspinner Press,



Ben Leyton is a uni graduate from New Zealand having his ‘overseas experience.’ Currently he’s living in Flint, Ohio. He has a connection with the town because his much loved grandfather lived there. His grandfather also encouraged Ben’s love of photography, giving him his old camera years ago. After his grandfather gave him a photo of a park bench from a local Flint park, he knows he has to go there to take his own photos. Ben’s BFF, Ange, is still in New Zealand and she helps with his home sickness when they Skype on a regular basis. Ben may be a uni graduate, but he works in a local café, Millers. Lately when Ben goes to the park he feels like he is being watched. It doesn’t take long before he notices a rather distinguished and drop-dead gorgeous guy seemingly checking him out. This is obviously the presence he has felt. Pretty soon the guy in question comes up to Ben on the bench and starts talking to him. Straight away Ben notices his British accent, something else Ben likes about him. The attractive Brit is Professor Simon Hawthorne who teaches history. Simon asks Ben out for a coffee. Ben agrees, and also asks if he can take Simon’s photo, but Simon says he doesn’t photograph well and is gone before Ben knows it.

Simon is originally from England but has lived in Flint for some time. Simon looks rather young to be a professor, like he is in his early to mid twenties, but he is quite old- school in his speech, the way he dresses, and generally conducts himself. The fact that Simon’s licence gives his age in the his thirties means nothing, he was born in 1894 and is a vampire. Simon, it seems, is quite taken by Ben and it appears that the feeling is mutual – there is just something about Simon that makes Ben feel right, comfortable. Simon knows from when he first sees Ben in the park that he is his mate. However, he is nervous about taking steps. But having a mate bond is not something you can just ignore.

Simon lives locally at The Castle. His fellow castle mates are Forge, another vampire and local detective, Lucas, a werewolf and coroner – who loves the idea of a ménage (a were can always try) –  and Mr Boggs, a ghost and the original owner of The Castle. There are also side characters like Ange who decides to investigate Simon as she is overly protective of Ben, and Blair, a hacker the vampires, were, and ghost use to do some investigative work for them.

There is a murder / mystery going on in Shades of Sepia. Local people are turning up dead in pairs, one human, one vampire, and the paranormal characters in this book are investigating the vampire side, as well as the fact that Forge works for the Flint PD. The idea is that the residents in Flint know of the local paranormals but as long as they don’t go around killing anyone, and they keep the place a pleasant area to live, they turn a blind eye. There are two communities within the one, only blended. But now, with one vampire and one human turning up dead together, Simon, Forge and Lucas have to make sure they work out if it is connected to their community or the human community and, if so, why.

As far as a murder / mystery goes, Shades of Sepia is not so subtle.  The who of the mystery component is easy to work out. That didn’t bother me overly. Could it have been done somewhat better? Yes. But I have taken that into consideration in my rating. I have to say that it is still an interesting read.

As far as a paranormal read goes, it is light. I have a preference for darker paranormal Two Guys together Sepia Quotereading, but if I read lighter ones, then this is something that I enjoy – because it is very sweet and it is very romantic and the main characters are quite lovely. There are plenty of aww moments as they declare they love one another reasonably frequently – but you know what? Life is short, tell someone you love them.

Romance wise, neither of the MC’s are alpha. They hold hands, they cry when it is emotional, they do declare their love often, and they make a sweet couple. How does Simon tell Ben that he is a vampire? How does Simon deal with past hurts? and there have been several. The book is sexy, but the sex isn’t overpowering, when it happens it is nice, because there is a bond. However, Ms Barwell  can write a good sex scene, some tend to fade off page, but when they stay on page they are hot and the scene with the mirror was all kinds of sexy.

The world building is pretty good. These vampires can walk in the sun, paying homage to the originals in the genre, they can eat food, but it isn’t desired all that much. Non-reflections are de jour in this world for the vampires – this makes it hard for Ben, who holds photos so dear. There is an addiction to do with a vampire and blood, so that was refreshing, as well as information transfer, and feelings, once the mate bond is made.

Because this is book #1 of a series I am going to assume some things from this book will be tied up, or maybe ongoing. I would like to know what happens when someone ages and the other doesn’t, because I think about those things when I read a vampire paranormal. How is that bloodlust going for someone? I’d like to see if that can be gotten around somehow, if I say why it is a spoiler. I want to see more about Forge and Lucas, they were intriguing, as was Mr Boggs. Why does the mention of the Civil War affect him?


I really fell for Ben and Simon as soul-mate lovers. This is a book where the characters are stronger as a couple. I loved the romance between them, I enjoyed the lack of alpha males – diversity is the key for me. I thought it was sweet how Ben wanted a photo of Simon and the moment when it could be possible, I can’t discuss it as it is a spoiler. I can appreciate Ben’s ring tone for his fellow Kiwi, Ange – Slice of Heaven. I thought the world building was solid without being information overload. I am looking forward to book #2 and I am hoping it is in the same world as book #1. I hope Forge and Lucas get their own stories and I hope to continue to see Simon and Ben, as there is more to their story. If you like a more romantic and lighter romance paranormal read, if you are good with non-alpha leads, if you like a murder / mystery theme, and are okay with the fact that it is easy to work out, then I recommend the nicely named Shades of Sepia to you.

Book supplied by the publisher, Dreamspinner Press, in return for an honest review.

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There are a lot of things in this book that make me want to read it. I love a good romance. I love vampire books if they are written well. I love the idea of the “bond” between two characters. I love a murder mystery. And I am all about “aww” and good sex.

Great review. I love the photo/quote.


Anne Barwell

Thanks for the thoughtful review, Kazza. Forge and Lucas will be getting their own stories, which do take place in the same world. Forge’s is called ‘Electric Candle’ and is written by Elizabeth Noble. It’s expected release date is April. I’m writing Lucas’s later this year which will be called ‘Family and Reflection’.

I love the choice of photo for the quote 🙂