When humans discovered magi and shifters were real, World War III broke out, ending in the enslavement of both species by humans. In the intervening century, the magi are still enslaved by governments worldwide, but the shifters have fought tooth and claw to be considered second class citizens. Things got even worse when the veil tore and terrible dragon-like creatures called taragorians emerged, wreaking havoc and eating everyone in their path. Humans could not fight them, and the enslaved magi, along with the shifters, were conscripted to fighting against them.
The U.S. now only takes up the east coast of the American continent. The veil tore through the Midwest and it’s now called the Great Divide. The West coast is governed by the People’s Liberation Union, where all everyone — humans, shifters, and magi alike — is treated as equal and free. Madeo Driscoll was born in the U.S., though, and he was raised in the magi compound. He was bonded to Jude at three days old, neither boy had a choice, and they form a dyad. Mads weaves the spells and Jude acts as the focus, the power source. They’ve been working for the Non-Human Specialist Operation on a TRD (Taragorian Response Department) since they were teens, having no choice but to fight. They have no rights as magi, and they have to toe the line or else face violence and punishment. They do what they can, but Mads and Jude can’t trust anyone, and only rely on each other for support. But when they meet a teen magi who was thrust into war, they take Logan under their wing. And when Logan nearly dies, Mads does what he has to in order to rescue the teen. Even if that means being reassigned and joining a TRD.
Mads and Jude get assigned to a new team. The Ono-Nai pride is new to the city, having come from a more rural area. Cosmo Ono-Nai is the alpha, a powerful lion shifter, and his siblings and their partners make up the rest of the pride and most of them fight with him. Mads is suspicious and skeptical at first. He knows he can’t trust shifters any more than he can trust humans, because shifters are nearly as bad, and he’s experienced violence at their hands. But with each day, Cosmo and his pride show Mads and Jude that they are good people, they have good hearts, and that they don’t think less of them because they are magi. Mads is also ridiculously attracted to Cosmo, but he fights it with every turn.
But with each mission, each team dinner, Mads begins to let his walls down. Even when Cosmo appears to break Mads’ trust, Cosmo makes amends and apologizes. The closer Mads gets to the pride, the more Mads lets Cosmo in. Beginning a relationship isn’t the wisest choice, but there’s no denying their fierce attraction.
Shifters are going missing, and the NHSO won’t investigate. When a TRD goes missing, Mads’ team is put on the case, and then are able finally investigate what’s going on. It’s worse than anyone imagined. And when Cosmo and Charlie go missing, the team will stop at nothing to get their members back. What they find is atrocious and terrible, and Mads pulls out all the stops to save Cosmo, changing the course of their lives forever.
This book starts a new series by Notaro, and it’s a dystopian future that’s heartbreaking in a lot of ways. The author builds a complex world, drawing on many familiar elements to flesh it out. Magi are considered the bottom of the barrel, nothing more than tools. Shifters aren’t treated much better. Humans are the top of the food chain, and they treat those below them abominably. There are parts of this that are hard to read, and there’s talk of abuse and extreme violence, though it’s not shown on page. But it sets the stage for the life that Mads is living.
Mads is doing his best to survive, and though he and Jude wish to escape to the People’s Liberation Union, the tracking devices implanted in their body would see them killed before they’re able to cross the Great Divide. Magi and shifters are registered and tagged by the U.S. government and Magi literally have no rights. Mads is scrappy though, and has a macabre sense of humor that helps him get through. His bond with Jude helps him, as it helps Jude. They are more than brothers. Mads repeatedly calls Jude his other half. Their dyad bond is unbreakable, and neither want to part, as they’ve been together their whole lives. But that bond also puts a damper on Mads’ love life. When he can even find someone willing to associate with a magi, they can’t handle the closeness he has with Jude, despite there being nothing sexual between them. But Mads doesn’t care, he’s just trying to survive.
And while Mads doesn’t trust shifters, and he thinks most of them are nearly as horrible as humans, he doesn’t paint them all with the same brush. So while he’s not happy about their new assignment, and definitely uses snark as a defense mechanism, he sees Cosmo and the pride for what they are. It takes time, and the relationships develop over a good portion of the book. As far as the romance goes, it’s a bit of a slow burn at first, and I really thought that fit well with the characters, especially given Mads’ past. The romance part of the book is only part of the storyline, but I thought the chemistry between the MCs was good and drove that aspect well. The event toward the end of the story shifts things greatly for both Mads and Cosmo, but they both embrace it.
But there’s so much more going on here, from the well-drawn magic system, to the prejudice and ill-treatment of anyone other than human. Notaro does a pretty good job of explaining it all organically. I was drawn into the world easily and invested in the characters. It’s complex and definitely hard to read at points. There’s heavy topics here, but I think the author handles them with care.
All in all, I was drawn into the world, really liked the characters, and enjoyed the narrative. Notaro uses humor at exactly the right points, and has characters that aren’t afraid to show affection. Despite the hard topics, there are moments of lightness that really balance it out. This is just the first book in the series, and I’m looking forward to more. If you’re into dystopian stories, and/or paranormal books, then definitely check this one out.