What do you do when the world ends? Well, not so much as “ends” as collides with a parallel world where shifters and unicorns and faeries and mushroom children exist, causing the two worlds — the world of mortals and the world of monsters — to merge into a wonderful new creation. If you’re Isaac, well, you simply do your best. Isaac is a sorcerer with great magic potential and almost no magical control. But he’s a good guy, a nice guy, and he has found his calling as the person who works to find harmony between the cryptids (as the new magical citizens have come to be called) and humans. Finding a home for water fae in a farmer’s pond, or explaining human technology to a magical creature. It’s fulfilling, and it makes him happy.
What doesn’t make him happy is the mayor’s constant harassment, trying to get Isaac to come and teach up and coming new mages at the local school. Isaac can barely make his own spells work; how is he supposed to teach anyone else how to control their own magic? But the mayor seems unable to understand the word no and keeps asking and asking. The headmaster of the school takes a different tactic, threatening Isaac and Isaac’s friends if he won’t come and be a teacher. But why?
In the middle of all of this is Caspian, a fox shifter who, with his shy, sweet smiles, has been trying to get closer to Isaac. Not that Isaac isn’t interested, but Caspian works with the mayor, which makes it hard for Isaac to trust him, even though he wants to. When Caspian follows Isaac into the woods to watch the river horses, Isaac decides to finally give the fox a chance. And it turns out to be the best decision he’s ever made.
Isaac’s magic is very tied to his emotional state, and lately it’s been hard for him to be calm enough to perform even basic spells. It’s the natural and elemental magics that call to him, such as the river horses, allowing him to relax in their presence, deep in the woods. There, with them, he can feel balanced. When Caspian comes along, Isaac expects to feel unsettled, since Caspian’s presence makes his heart beat as fast as rabbit’s, but, instead, Caspian sitting there with him, shoulder to shoulder, leaves Isaac feeling calm. In tune with the world around him.
There’s no weight of expectation from the fox, just a friendly desire to be close. Caspian flirts with Isaac, charms him, but never pressures him. Caspian is delighted with Isaac’s smiles, with his gentle good nature, with how earnestly he cares for others and how devoted he is to his friends. Caspian wants to be part of that circle of friends, wants to be able to shift and cuddle up in a furry puddle in Isaac’s lap and settle for a nap, knowing he’s loved and wanted and cherished.
These two have a gentle, friendly chemistry, and they fall into an easy romance. And then there’s the rest of the story. To be honest, I am very conflicted with this book. The focus of the story is — as is natural — on the main characters … but so very much so. The focus is so tightly on them and explaining every smile and gesture that the plot gets banished into the background, which made the Big Bad feel less big and less bad. While the mayor and the headmaster make comments, there’s no follow up. They show up, they make noises, they vanish, and Isaac and Caspian go back to dating. Caspian’s friend is the Guardian and he’s dying, but Isaac — other than a brief frown or two of concern — seems too busy holding hands with Caspian. There’s a powerful mushroom spirit living with two other men who is important, but he only makes a cameo in Isaac and Caspian’s series of dates and long conversations. The plot happens at the end of the book, leaving us with a cliffhanger, but it honestly felt like an afterthought. There are demons here, too, as well as a Cthulhuan god, and they don’t feel organic to the story. However, for all that it’s heavy on the adverbs, the writing is decent. And while the focus is entirely on every single moment Isaac and Caspian are together, with their week-long parting less than a paragraph, the pacing is fairly good.
So, I’m left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there are some good ideas in this book and decent characterization. But on the other, the world building and storytelling elements are put together in such a way that I had no real feel for what was going on, and I’m unsure if I’d be interested enough to read the second book in the series.