Dev may have spent the last four years studying sociology, but he’s spent his life trying to break into the magical world known as the Shadow Realm. No one in his family understands how a good Indian boy could ever be interested in such nonsense. Even Dev’s best friend, Cam, only humors him. But deep down, Dev knows all things magic and witchy are real. If his years of self-study and practice have not been enough to unlock this secret world, Dev is determined that his most recent purchase of a summoning board will do the trick. And if it doesn’t, well, maybe that’s a sign it’s time for him to give it all up. The night Dev and Cam attempt to summon a djinn to grant them three wishes, however, nothing happens. Hollowed out, Dev reluctantly refocuses on his classes. At least his sociology professor is hot.
While Dev struggles to find the energy to finish his studies and get his degree, Cam starts to feel off. It doesn’t take long before he realizes there’s nothing so pedestrian as food poisoning at work. For one thing, Cam’s growing horns and wings. For another, a group of strange and powerful witches arrives at Cam’s door. Not only do they claim Cam is a royal fairy, but they say he is too dangerous to walk freely among mortals. It is the worst time to be incommunicado with his best friend.
Meanwhile, Dev finds an attractive bear of a man named Tully to help him forget all this disappointment of the summoning board not working. The attraction is as instantaneous as it is mutual. And most astounding of all, a quick kiss in a coffee shop ends with Dev’s latent magical powers finally manifesting. As it turns out high, intense emotion is part of what powers Dev’s magic and Tully’s actually a witch sent by a local coven to help guide Dev as he comes into his powers. Before the night is out, Dev and Tully quite literally revel in several rounds of sex magic. Over the next several days, Dev spends his time fascinated by sex with Tully and by learning all about his local coven. He practically jumps at the chance to be made an official member of the Shadow Realm. But the truth about Tully’s coven and Cam’s mysterious disappearance eventually remind Dev that there’s more to being a witch than meeting the right man.
Summoned is the first book in JP Jackson’s Magus Malefica series. The contemporary story meshes together strong occult/magic imagery, urban fantasy, and sex romp elements. There is clearly a whole magical underworld hidden from non-magical human eyes. The official blurb touches on the idea of peace between species and good and evil. I think these themes come across clearly in the prose, though I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret them. It’s clear the witches hate werewolves and fae. It’s also clear that there are good and evil organizations within the Shadow Realm. Less clear is whether or not the interspecies relations are universal in the whole Shadow Realm or if it’s just Tully’s coven that harbors this hate. The sense of good and evil also felt a bit confused to me. There were times when it seemed like Tully’s coven got conflated with the whole Shadow Realm and that seemed to skew things for our MCs.
As far as the plot goes, I think Jackson was pretty ambitious. There are several major threads getting woven together: Dev’s lust/love story with Tully; Dev’s induction into the Shadow Realm; Cam’s turning into a fairy and his abduction/captivity; Dev’s university professor, Byron, also being a witch who can train Dev to use his powers; Byron and his lover racing the clock to find an antidote to werewolf bites. I want to eschew spoilers, so I’ll simply add that there were distinct mentions of species-based tensions/discrimination/unlikely pairings that made me think these themes will grow in future books in the series. Jackson really nails the Dev/Tully lust story with hyper focus on all things hot, hairy, and hard-bodied. Truth be told, I was actually a bit stunned with Dev as a character as he explores a relationship with Tully (more on that in a minute). The tension that Cam’s captivity brings was also extremely enticing at first. This part of the story had a ton of potential, but that I didn’t feel got maximized.
My biggest frustration with the story was the weird Dev/Cam dynamic. First, these two are supposed to be inseparable best friends. Cam is literally the only person who humors Dev’s obsession with magic and all that. But when things got real, I felt like Dev just utterly ignores Cam (usually in favor of fucking Tully). Cam’s panicked texts about being ill, texts about strange changes, then complete radio silence, and then Cam’s very disappearance…all of those are mere blips on Dev’s radar. He’s much too busy being wooed by Tully and his coven. Then, Dev is actually portrayed as this god-tier witch with power galore, multiple specialities that includes the gift of tracking people, and is literally mere feet away from Cam. Yet none of Dev’s witchy senses so much as tingle with a thought of Cam…even when Cam’s own magical abilities are telling Cam that Dev definitely is nearby. Finally, one of the most promising things Cam’s captivity and subsequent torture represented was a wedge, one that could have come between friends (Dev and Cam) and lovers (Dev and the magical world/people in it). Sadly, scandalously, Dev never had to confront his connection to those who were responsible for real harm to his best friend. (Oh, sure, Dev is disgusted those people caused harm to living things, but Dev barely seemed to register that they also, you know, tortured his best friend.)
Overall, I thought there was a bit of imbalance between the different elements of the book. The sheer effervescence of Dev and Tully’s relationship often seemed to eclipse everything else. For better or for worse, Dev stands out as a startlingly selfish, headstrong young man. It was fun at first reading about Dev getting lost in a romance that was a great physical match for him. The longer I read, however, the more I thought the focus on the relationship was detracting from other plot points. Fans who like a solid instalove that (ostensibly) turns into more, you’ll probably enjoy the Dev/Tully ship. Readers who just want a magical urban fantasy with darker themes may also enjoy this. Just be prepared for a few loose ends that are clearly meant to link into future installments in the series.