Rating: 4 stars
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Length: Short story

Thomas East manages an ice cream shop in a seaside California town. But, in reality, he is hiding out, avoiding his real life as the current North American Arch-Mage. As the youngest Arch-Mage in history, Tom felt overwhelmed with the bureaucracy and being unable to make the difference he wanted and just needed an escape.

One day, Tom is surprised when the wizard’s apprentice who works next door, Nicholas Incandesco, races into his shop and asks Tom to hide him. When magical bounty hunters show up looking for Nicholas, Tom learns that there is a lot more to Nicholas than he realized. It turns out that Nicholas is actual a rare shapeshifter and has caught the eye of some folks who want to claim him. Tom has no intention of letting Nicolas come to any harm — and he has the power to make sure the man stays safe.

Nicholas and Tom have been dancing around each other for a while now and both are definitely interested. Now that they have had a chance to open up about who they truly are, the men are really able to make a connection. Now, with each other’s support, Tom and Nicholas may finally find their way to a better future.

The Arch-Mage’s Firebird is a cute story with a nicely developed world for a short book. Noone does a nice job establishing a lot of groundwork in a small number of pages, including the role of magic, the threats to shifters and familiars, and elements of how magic works. The information felt integrated into the story without every feeling like info dump, and it gave the book a really well-rounded and nicely developed feel.

Most of the story focuses on the confrontation with the magical bounty hunters and the revelations about both Tom and Nicholas’ true backgrounds. But we do get a good sense of who these guys are, as well as their past relationship. There is a nice connection here, as not only have both men been hiding parts of themselves that they can finally share, but they also both understand what is like to be wanted for what you are instead of who you are. There are some nice moments between them, particularly as Tom figures out how to go forward with his life and his responsibilities.

I found this one entertaining and well developed in a small number of pages. If you are looking for a quick paranormal with some interesting world building, definitely check out this story.

Note: This story takes place in Noone’s Kitten & Witch world, roughly concurrently with Port in a Storm. There is brief mention here of Colin, the MC of that book, but this story stands fully alone and I had no problems jumping in without having read any of the other books.