Bel Adams is a rare R’iyah mage, one descended from a demon, and therefore he is destined to have a human familiar, rather than an animal or object. R’iyah mages have unusual magical abilities, which means they need human familiars who can help provide them protection. Bel’s first attempt at summoning his familiar was an abject failure, however. Mages and their familiars must basically be together all the time, and often end up as romantic partners, as well as magical ones. However, Bel’s first familiar wasn’t willing to take on that role, leaving Bel emotionally devastated. But Bel can’t continue his job in magical crisis solving without a familiar by his side to support him, so he is giving it another shot, despite being wary of having his heart crushed again.
Nico di Rossi became an Army Ranger because he was looking for adventure and excitement and someplace to focus all his wild energy. However, being in the military is a lot more standing around and filling out forms than Nico had imagined and he is bored and restless. When Nico suddenly finds himself summoned across the country to Bel, he is confused, but ultimately intrigued. The idea of jumping into danger by Bel’s side and fighting magical mayhem sounds a lot more exciting than his current job. But while Nico seems on board, Bel can’t help but be worried that once Nico really understands the commitment of the job, he will want to bail, and Bel isn’t sure his heart can take another broken bond.
Despite Bel’s worries, Nico is all in. However, he knows his role as familiar is to defend Bel, yet Nico’s skills fall much more into the offensive side. So Nico and Bel agree to reach out for help from Garen Dallarosa, Nico’s ex and a current Secret Service agent. Garen is an expert at defense and protection, so he agrees to come for a few months and help get Nico up to speed on what he needs to know. However, it quickly becomes clear that the three men are much more suited to work as a trio and that Bel is never going to be able to provide defensive protection as well as Garen. It is also becoming clear that Nico and Garen’s feelings for each other have never gone away. But at the same time, both men are also building a romantic and emotional connection with Bel as well. As the men get called in to resolve some magical crises, they just might find that two familiars are better than one, and that the three of them are meant for one another.
A.J. Sherwood is so great at writing playful, fun, paranormal stories and A Mage’s Guide to Human Familiars is no exception. I found this story so entertaining, I just tore right through it. Bel is sweet and adorable and you can’t help but feel for him as he faces potential rejection by his familiar once again. But Nico is pretty much all in from the start, as he is all about the adventure and pretty much goes a million miles an hour. The joke is that Nico is like a golden retriever — happy, high energy, and needing to be let out to run regularly in order to contain all his exuberance. While others might shy away from the danger in Bel’s job, Nico is thrilled to get to fight freaky things that could kill him. Garen is the more steady of the two, a little bit of the straight man to Nico’s silliness. The three men have a nice sense of balance, both in their work dynamic and personal one, and they are a great fit for one another. So there is a nice fun tone here that is light and playful, even as they encounter some scary and intense situations.
I love the world building in this story and found it wonderfully detailed. We learn about the magical world, as well as Bel’s family legacy of having rare R’iyah mages. Bel has some cool abilities that other mages don’t have, along with his need to have a human familiar. Not to mention that demon blood (and demon relatives) that set him apart. Sherwood does a nice job building both the larger world, as well as the smaller details specific to Bel and his magic. We see the guys go out on a few cases (Bel works for a sort of magical crisis resolution organization) and there is a nice sense of real danger, while still having some humor and fun.
I do think things get a bit mired in the middle here, however. The beginning is so interesting as we meet all three men, learn about the magical world, and see their early connection. And we get lots of excitement in the end, both professionally and romantically. But I think things are a little slow in the middle, particularly as these guys try to work things out as a threesome. First, it takes some time for them to figure out what they want from each other, and then to share knowledge with one another. Then, when they finally are ready to be all in, they get stymied over and over as they try to actually finally have sex. I think this was supposed to be played for laughs, but with things already a bit slower to progress relationship-wise, this continued delay just enhanced that problem for me. That said, I still found myself engaged and this was a small issue, not a large one.
Overall, I found this story just so much fun and I loved Bel, Galen, and Nico together. We also meet some of their magical co-workers and this is an entertaining group that all plays off one another well. This looks to be the first of their adventures, so I am really excited to see what comes next for these men.