Electro-mage Jude Sullivan is once again in trouble with the Coven, the group that polices witches and other supernatural beings. It took Jude a while to get his magic under control and so the Coven has had to step in a few times to bail him out in order to protect the secret of witches from getting out to the human world. Now, Jude is being given one more chance to fall in line or he will be stripped of his magic. The Coven wants him to travel to a rural town where cows are being killed by some sort of supernatural creature and figure out how to stop it. If Jude fails, he will be stripped of his magic.
Rob Mackenzie is a bear shifter and mechanic who lives in Mercy. He is the only shifter around and has to keep that a secret from even his closest friends. When Mack and a friend see Jude in a bar his first night in town, Mack is attracted enough to make a move. The guys seem to be hitting it off… until Jude thinks that Mack is the one killing the cows. Once the men get that sorted, Mack agrees to help Jude, if only to get rid of him faster and help protect the town. But the men are shocked to learn that there is more to that draw between them than they realized; in fact, the pair are witch and familiar, destined by fate to be together. Now that they have made the connection, only the Coven can break it. On the plus side, the witch/familiar bond gives the men some added strength and ability. One the other hand, if one of them dies, the other will slowly fade away as well.
Mack and Jude realize that their only chance is to work together to stop the creature killing the cows. But when they realize what it is, it is clear that the men are in way over their heads. Jude knows he never should have been sent in for this type of job, as he is woefully unprepared, nor is he the type of witch that would really excel at dealing with a wild animal. But with Jude’s magic on the line, they both know they must succeed. Not to mention that the the attacks are escalating, and both Mack and Jude are determined to keep the townspeople from getting hurt. Now the men must use all their combined magic and shifter strength to stop the creature before it’s too late, and both Jude’s magic and more lives are lost.
The Witch’s Familiar is the first book in T.J. Nichol’s new Familiar Mates series. One of the things I really like about Nichols’ writing is the really immersive world building and this story is no exception. Nichols gives a really interesting take on the world of magic, witches, familiars, and shifters. I always enjoy when an author can take familiar themes and build them into something unique and creative and I think Nichols really succeeds in that here. The world building is really interesting and I enjoyed the way the dynamic builds between Mack and Jude as they begin to establish their witch/familiar bond. The story also gets quite exciting, and at times scary, as we learn just what this creature is that is attacking the cows (and later threatening people). I really liked watching the battle scenes as Mack and Jude combine their skills to try to fight the creature, as well as learning more about this magical being and just what it can do. The story has lots of thrilling moments and it is a great set up for a new series.
I also enjoyed the relationship dynamic between Jude and Mac. Things start out with attraction right away, but then Jude suspects Mack may be behind the cow killings and so things shift to some enemies to lovers tension between them. It takes a bit for the men to get sorted because Jude is clearly in over his head and kind of a fish out of water as the city boy in a small town. Mack is wary about Jude, understandably, after Jude thinks he is the bad guy. On top of that, the witch/familiar bond brings tension as the guys are sort of thrust into it against their will. So I enjoyed seeing them move from at odds with one another to really come to rely on each other. The two have to work together to stop the creature and it is a life or death situation. The connection between them builds nicely and I loved the way these two grew to care about and depend on each other.
The only issue that felt a little unresolved for me is why the Coven sent Jude to investigate in the first place. They say they are testing him and if he fails, they will pull his magic. But I am not sure I understand why they would send him on a case for which he is so woefully unprepared that his failure would cause real risk to both animals and humans. It is noted many times that this is not a case best suited to an electro-mage. They couldn’t find any challenge for him that would actually use his skills? The Coven is on one hand presented as a body that cares about the fate of witches (therefore the secrecy is needed and Jude’s behavior must be monitored), and also capricious and seeming to be looking for Jude to fail. There is some attempt at explaining this toward the end, but it still felt unclear and somewhat unresolved for me.
Overall, I thought this was a great story and a really interesting start to a new series. I continue to enjoy Nichols’ writing and I am looking forward to more.