Scales ‘N’ Spells: Origin – A.J. Sherwood & Jocelynn Drake
Cameron wants to make it clear that he did not go into the festival to find a dragon mate.
Germany is supposed to be an escape. With a new mechanical engineering degree, a new job looming, and a whole life planned out that isn’t his, Germany seems like the best place to find himself.
So how does he end up discovering his lost magic heritage, running from bad guys with a secret agenda, and being adopted by the not-so-extinct Fire Dragon clan?
Cameron blames tall, dark, and sexy Alric, king of the Fire dragons. His fated mate. Because of course he is, and mates are meant to take the blame, right?
It may take a hot second, but as Cameron learns more about the scarred Alric and the life he’s landed in, Cameron realizes that perhaps this is where he’s meant to be, magic and mates and kidnapping and all.
Turns out coming to Germany wasn’t an escape but his awakening.
Not-so-extinct, Shifter dragons, mages, fated mates, secret clans, epic libraries, hurt/comfort, age gap, not that Alric cares, magical heritage, mechanical engineers being BAMF, grumpy dragon kings being protective of their cute mates, really the cuteness is downright criminal, we might need a firehose for these two, or not, sass, so much sass, Ravi and Cameron are no longer allowed to be alone together, for reasons, dragons hoarding, when you live long enough statistics will get you, bats named Cheryl, beheadings, no damsels in distress here, just very unhappy mages, with trigger fingers, anyone have life hacks on how to get rid of kidnappers, Cameron is open to suggestions
Here be DRAGONS!!!
If you love them, this series is sure to make your inner fire-breather rumble.
Those tags up there in the blurb made my day! I think every book should have them.
A.J. Sherwood teamed up with fave author Jocelynn Drake to deliver us this fantastical series, Scales ‘n’ Spells. This is a world of dragons and mages. They work together to create magic. Mages are also extra precious because they are the dragons’ fated mates. However, there was a Great War that wiped out the mages and dragons became extinct. Or so the world thought…
The remaining dragons, like the Fire dragon clan, kept their existence a secret. King Alric and his clan have been searching for a mage for 500 years. They finally found one at the Dragon Festival, an American-Korean tourist named Cameron Park. Alric decided to play tour guide to see what the young man knows. Turns out, Cam had no clue he is a mage or that dragons still exist.
Origin is the first book in the series. It effectively established the Scales ‘n’ Spells world and boy, there was quite a lot to take in. Cam had to learn thousands of years of dragon history, about his own family’s legacy as well as magic spells. There was info-dumping but there was an effort to avoid bogging down the narrative too much. The magic system was explained using simple scientific analogies by Cam as he tried to figure how it worked. I liked this approach because it makes things more straightforward and easier to grasp.
Cam was understandably freaked out upon learning he’s a mage. Still I couldn’t help wishing that maybe MCs can react more like Po from Kung Fu Panda, all gung-ho and fanboy-y about being the chosen one instead of getting hysterical.
That mini-gripe aside, Cam’s fabulous! Flirty, cheerful, intelligent and so very determined to boost people’s self-esteem through compliments. Especially that of a certain broody, pessimistic king. They say a mate is someone who brings joy. And while Cam’s a bit too much at times, the way he lit up Alric’s world was a palpable energy that shone throughout the story.
Many will claim Cam is cute, but really, the most adorkable character of all was Alric. Check out his dragon hoard! The man is regal and dominant, very elegant in his suits, very protective of his Clan. But he can be so endearingly awkward and insecure too. Many times, I wanted to give him a hug.
As the last remaining Burkhart, Alric carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. More so now that they have just found a long-lost mage, someone tried to kidnap their treasured magic user. Alric was always too ready to sacrifice his own happiness for his Clan. The dork even thought he’s unworthy to be anyone’s mate, let alone Cam, because he has a damaged arm. Put this poor king out of his misery, Cam!
I loved the authors’ take on fated mates. It’s started with insta-attraction but then took things slow. Instead of simply being swept away by fate, the two MCs got to know each other properly. The relationship development was a rollercoaster but it’s definitely worth it.
The book as a whole felt a tad too long. There’s the training rigmarole to go through, historical events to recount, the big to-do about Cam’s family, and the mystery of who is behind the kidnappings. It could do without some of these parts. It was like things were happening quickly for Cam in a matter of weeks but it also took a while for the story to get to the point.
The supporting characters though, I loved them! Alric’s friends/courtiers are awesome! Each of them stood out and made me want to know more about them. Baldewin, Ravi, and Gunther each have their own books. I can’t wait for these dragons to find their mates.
I might have some niggles, but overall, I had a lot of fun with Origin. It’s fast-paced and slow-burn, humorous and angsty. This series opener set the wonderful world of dragons and mages. It introduced us to a lovable Fire Dragon king, his beloved little mage, and a wacky family cheering them on. It’s a story 500 years in the making but it’s only just the beginning.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to buy your copy of Origin. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.
You can also use my Bookshop affiliate links to buy paperbacks and MP3 CD audiobooks and help support independent bookstores.
If you like my content, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi. Your donations will help keep this website going. Thank you so much!
Magic & Steam: The Gangster – C.S. Poe
1881—Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.
The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.
This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.
The novel-length follow-up to The Engineer, in the exciting new steampunk series, Magic & Steam.
The Gangster is, hands down, C.S. Poe‘s best work to date. I was so blown away by this book! How is this not a movie already??!!
For me, the Magic & Steam series is very cinematic. Not just story-wise, it would also look really gorgeous on screen. The world-building is a steampunk dream! For the first book, The Engineer, it was a clockwork version of the Wild West, complete with dashing outlaws and their aether-powered guns and evil geniuses with fantastically rigged out battle tanks.
For The Gangster, the author reimagined 1881 New York into a magically-run city where instead of subways trains, we get a Grand Central Depot that is a sixteen-story terminal for airships. I can see this as a breath-taking panoramic shot when Gillian goes there to meet Gunner.
It’s not just the technology and the setting. The atmosphere was electric, the people felt real. The writing took me to an alt-Victorian New York that lives and breathes.
This is a world where magic users undergo mandatory regulation documentation. The Federal Bureau of Magic & Steam oversees the usage of magic. There are three kinds of people in the magic community. There are scholars who study magic, architects who fabricated the spells and casters, like Gillian, who perform them. Magic created by machines is illegal because it goes against the natural order, hence, it is extremely unpredictable and volatile.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Gillian eagerly awaits Gunner’s arrival to make good on their promise to ring in the New Year together. Earlier that evening, the federal agent was hot on the tail of a gangster who was using illegal magic. This gave him the name of a mysterious new player in the scene, Tick-Tock, who was stirring up trouble in the Five Points. There is no rest for our poor caster because as soon as Gunnar arrives, things went boom!
And so off they go to uncover Tick-Tock’s identity and his evil agenda, crossing paths with bullying co-workers, mechanical men, machine-made magic and grotesque abominations.
If I thought Gillian was already using high-level magic before, well, he just went nuclear. The fight scenes were beyond AWESOME!!! This part alone was enough to earn the book 5 stars. Add to that a gripping case that kept me glued and two fascinating characters that were so damn perfect for each other.
I first thought, Gunner was a mystery. We still don’t know much about him. But turns out, Gillian was the bigger puzzle to solve. He’s a bit unreliable as a narrator. We constantly learn more things about him as we go along. Everything is told from Gillian’s first person POV. You can really feel his emotions jumping off the page and boy, did I feel for the guy.
Our boy tends to be too hard on himself. He is a lonely man who oh so badly craves love but thinks himself unworthy because sees himself a monster. He is spectacularly unaware of his own appeal, bemoans his chibi stature and has absolutely no gaydar whatsoever. I thought he was a pushover but this well-spoken little man has quite a temper. When Gillian unleashes his fury, he’s one magnificent, scary motherfucker!
I also naively thought him a bad liar but holy heck, he was actually lying through his teeth all this time! All in the name of survival. Because our dear Special Agent Gillian Hamilton has some very dark secrets. I love him!!!
Gunner The Deadly is his complete opposite. He is exactly what Gillian wants. And what he wants to be. The outlaw makes no apologies about who he is. He never lies. Tall, handsome, confident, perceptive and virtually unflappable, his calm automatically shatters the moment Gillian is in danger. I loved how he gently taught the younger man about intimacy and affection. I loved how he sees Gillian, really see him. It’s through the outlaw’s uncannily sharp observations that we get glimpses of how things really are. It is through these that the troubled agent is forced to be honest with himself.
The two men are constantly out and about so the quiet moments are rare and precious. Gillian cherished them like the treasures they are as his connection with Gunner grew deeper. These scenes are so pure!
I cleared my throat. “There’s something to be said for a well-built man.” I looked up at Gunner again. He was staring at me. “You’ve been eyed up and down no fewer than half a dozen times since we entered.”
He nodded a fraction, like he was already quite aware.
“And the man behind me at the bar intends to bring a beer to you.”
Gunner’s gaze flicked in that direction but didn’t linger. “You’re quite observant when the attention isn’t focused on you.”
Sweat prickled under my arms. I shrugged, trying to appear casual, but I’m sure I looked, if anything, manic. “Perhaps… territorial, is more correct.”
That made the corners of Gunner’s eyes crinkle. “It’s rather too fish-in-a-barrel for me. I enjoy making eye contact with a man across a tavern. Getting that swell in your gut, like the ground has fallen out from under you.”
I tried to swallow, but my throat was parched—dry like animal bones bleaching in the desert sun. “Like you’ve been pinned to the wall.”
Gunner took one step closer to me. “And you realize you share a tendency.”
“Now you’ve got to put it into words.”
Another step. “When it’s right, you don’t need words.”
The Gangster took off at a running start. Quite literally too. It never let down the pace until the very end, where it dropped one hell of a cliffhanger. The events took place only a couple of days but even with things going fast, all the various plotlines were brilliantly executed. Everything came together beautifully. It went all out with the action, the suspense, the mystery, the imagery and the magic while delivering a wonderful romance that is as tender as it is spine-tingling. THIS is exactly how you cast a spell on a reader!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to buy your copy of Magic & Steam books. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.
You can also use my Bookshop affiliate links to buy paperbacks and MP3 CD audiobooks and help support independent bookstores.
Demon Magic: Happy Endings – Alice Winters
Smart men never dabble with demons. I never claimed to be smart, but at least I’m powerful enough to control them. When I bound Havoc to me nearly three hundred years ago, I never realized how difficult he’d make my life, although “accidentally” lighting him on fire every now and then does bring a smile to my face.
Havoc is handsome, mysterious, and somehow my closest companion, even if we don’t always get along. He’s more interested in bedding attractive women than protecting my life, which defeats the main reason a mage like me would have a demon. I even had to fight off swordsmen alone once because he was too busy betting on who’d survive.
When fifteen people are found dead with messages from a long-extinct cult, Havoc and I are forced to face our past and sort through our differences. We start to realize that there’s something more to this relationship, something that has kept us by each other’s sides for so long. Maybe it took three hundred years to finally understand my feelings for Havoc and realize that I can’t imagine being with anyone but him. Havoc and I will do everything we can to stop the evil that is threatening the lives of the people I care about. Or destroy everything—we haven’t quite figured that out yet.
Happy Endings is a 73k word novel that has an immensely powerful mage, a shapeshifting demon with a strong libido, a dark mage that just won’t stay dead, a spray bottle put to unusual uses, armor that is most definitely not made of dragon skin, blackmail involving an unfortunate slow-mo video, a detective being pursued by a determined minotaur, unprofessional use of illusions, and an epic walk into battle.
*Revised and edited.
Happy Endings kicked off Demon Magic, another Alice Winters paranormal snark-fest.
Miles and his contracted demon go about their intertwined lives for 300 years, with Havoc sleeping with every woman he can get. Miles lets him carry on with his amorous business while very, very secretly pining for his demon.
The mage owns a café that doubled as magic shop and home. Apart from an oversexed demon familiar, he has a witch assistant and a werewolf chef who were a couple. He was approached by two detectives about a dead body with markings similar to that used by an Inquisition-type group Miles had encountered hundreds of years ago.
Miles and Havoc’s past was dredged up the deeper they became involved with the case. We learned about the abuse Miles suffered from his late master and how he and Havoc forged their connection. It later turned out, this very dead master might not be resting in peace after all.
Miles is quite possibly, the most powerful mage in existence although the book hasn’t confirmed it. I always liked it when we get an established high level magic user right off the bat since I’m bored with beginners. There were a lot of magic on display which I really enjoyed. Miles can use glamour and change his appearance. He can basically do almost anything but has an affinity for fire. And he has demons at his beck and call.
Havoc, well, he’s a piece of work. The demon is obnoxious, horny and childish. We meet a lot of his type in the author’s works. He’s tolerable but him going from chasing skirts to getting into Miles’ pants seemed to come out of nowhere. But after my confusion with his sudden turnabout wore off, I could see his complete dedication to Miles. Which is always delivered with a jibe or two to the long-suffering mage.
This series has a great supporting cast. Standouts were Sam the detective and Iya the minotaur. I’d love to read their story. Iya is a himbo who latched on to Sam after Miles assigned him to protect the detective under strict orders not to penetrate the human unless the human said so otherwise. Trust the doofus to misinterpret that in his little demonic brain.
At first, I was put off by the ridiculous opening scene and had to give it another try before it stuck. The author’s humor is the polarizing kind. Either you like it or you don’t. Here, it got tiresome at many points. Many lines weren’t that funny. They were trying too hard to be raunchy.
There were also scenes that did nothing to the story, merely there to show off a gag or two. And almost overshadowed the progress of relevant events which is too bad because the core plot was actually exciting. We got necromancers, missing grimoires and political intrigues, not to mention a cute romance involving a demon. They’re my favorite kind of supernatural love interest next to vampires.
The writing wasn’t as dedicated to its world-building as it to the humor but we still more or less see an understandable picture of what’s going on. It is the kind of fantasy world where every imaginable creature exists so we get everything from paladins to archangels and things that I’m not even sure what.
There were also explanations provided for demon summoning. Most of it were the usual ritualistic stuff but I liked that Miles is so powerful he can drop the chanting mumbo jumbo and just go with “I summon you”.
The book also tackled the demon’s relationship to its summoner. Most contracted demons were treated nothing more than strictly controlled, often mistreated tools. Miles and Havoc’s relationship has always been special. The mage treated his demon kindly from the start. A huge risk because demons are very tricky. I love the trust they had with each other.
Happy Endings might have gone overboard with the silly gags and could have woven a stronger world but it still had the right amount of magic, loveable demons, quirky humans and intriguing threads to propel me through to the next book.
And so the quest continues with more misadventures, more graves turned, more misuse of glamour spells and a monster from the past making his comeback. Looks like the real fun’s just starting.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to get your copy of Happy Endings. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.