Sage McKinley has always felt weak, unimportant, and like an afterthought. After losing his mother to a violent murder at age 12, Sage was sent to live with a father he had never met. His dad made it clear he had no interest in him, particularly as Sage’s magical talent never manifested beyond basic levels. Now Sage’s father has died and he is left running the bookstore his dad owned. While Sage actually loves books and quite likes the store, he still can’t help but feel like he is just following along where life takes him, without really reaching for what he wants for himself. The fact that his father’s ghost continues to haunt the shop, berating Sage for all his perceived failings, isn’t helping the situation either.
Then, suddenly, Sage’s life changes forever. He rescues a fox being abused by some men in an alley and the fox pretty much adopts Sage. He never realized how much he was craving companionship, but the fox’s company brings Sage so much joy. On top of that, a new ghost appears in the shop, this time that of an old time gunslinger. Gideon tells Sage that his magical abilities are far larger than he realized and, in fact, are tremendous and rare. He also points out to an oblivious Sage that the fox, who Sage has named Fluke, is actually Sage’s familiar. Sage is sure that at his age and with his magical skill there is no way he is finding a familiar, but Fluke’s talents and the connection Sage feels to him soon make it clear that is actually the case. Sage also meets his long-lost grandmother who turns out nothing like he expected.
Within a few weeks, Sage’s whole life has been turned upside. He started out as a man with no one in his life beyond his best friend, and suddenly he is surrounded by people (and animals) he cares about and who care for him in return. In fact, Sage is finding himself incredibly drawn to Gideon, and Gideon seems to return the attraction. However, with Gideon a ghost who is only around to teach Sage about his magic, the chances of anything developing between them seem next to nothing.
The more Sage and Gideon delve into Sage’s magic, the more it becomes clear that there are those who want to stop his abilities. The killers have left a trail of bodies, and Sage might be next. Now he and Gideon must work to figure out who is behind the killings and how to stop them before it is too late.
Oh, I enjoyed this book so much, I could barely put it down. The Fantastic Fluke was a story that I wanted to read from beginning to end, without pause. I found myself completely captivated and think Sam Burns has created something really fabulous with this book. This story is so layered and, as it develops, more and more is revealed about the magic, the killers, and what specifically is happening to Sage. I can’t even begin to summarize it all, nor do I want to, as so much of the fun here is slowly learning exactly what is going on and how it all connects. I seriously was captivated right from the start and couldn’t stop reading.
What I think really makes it work is that we are in Sage’s first person POV throughout the story and that is perfect. Sage is a fascinating POV character, full of self doubt and lacking a sense of self worth. I loved watching him come into his own as he finds his new abilities, but also comes to believe he is strong and worthy and deserves to reach for his own happiness. So this story is very much Sage’s journey and it works perfectly to have him as our guide as we discover things right along with him. It is almost like we are living the story through Sage’s eyes, rather than just watching it happen. It also works well because there is such a knowledge imbalance between him and Gideon. So by keeping Gideon more of a mystery and staying out of his head, we don’t get spoiled for what develops.
Even though we are not in Gideon’s POV, I think Burns does a nice job of building his character. He is sort of the perfect ideal of a man (aside from being dead) and is physically gorgeous, while also patient and kind. But Gideon’s afterlife has not been easy, as he keeps getting called to train mages like Sage. As soon as Gideon gets connected to someone, he is no longer needed and disappears until he is called again. Like Sage, Gideon doesn’t see himself as having much value. He views himself as more of a tool, but not really a person worth recognizing. So there are some nice parallels here between the characters and I liked seeing Gideon’s development over the book. And, of course, what is most problematic of all is that Gideon is not alive or corporeal and that clearly presents a problem, especially as the guys get hot for one another. I won’t spoil how it all works out, but rest assured the guys get an HEA.
One of the most rewarding parts of the story is seeing Sage go from basically having no one but his venomous father to having a whole group who loves and cares about him. Burns has given us such a great supporting cast here of really engaging and interesting characters who bring so much to the story. Even Sage’s dad, who is totally horrible, is the perfect foil of villain without being over the top or cartoonish. I loved seeing Sage’s relationship develop with his grandmother, giving him a family connection he has long been missing and letting him learn more about his own past. And Fluke might as well be human, as he has as much personality as you could ask for in a side character. He is clever and loyal and a little spoiled. I loved the role of familiars in this world and it was fun to see how that plays out in the story in general, but also with Sage in specific. He doesn’t trust that Fluke is really meant to be his, doubting himself so much. So I loved watching the bond that forms between them, but also to see how Sage comes to accept that Fluke really does belong with him.
There is a nice mystery and suspense side here as Sage and Gideon uncover who is behind the killings and learn more about what is going on. I think my only teeny complaint is a lot gets resolved right at the end, and we have a soft cliffhanger that leads to the next book in the series. There is more than enough resolution here that you can feel comfortable starting this book now, but don’t be surprised if you are as eager as me for the next story.
Overall, I found this a really engaging urban fantasy and a story I just couldn’t put down. I love the magical world Burns has created and it is rich and well developed. It is the perfect setting for these great characters and engaging mystery. Definitely check this book out.