Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 3.25 stars
Narrator: CJ Storm
Length: 12 hours, 20 minutes
When humans found out over 100 years ago that shifters and magi were real, it led to World War III. The war changed political boundaries and destroyed the United States, dividing the country in half with a vast wasteland in the middle, known as the Great Divide. In the west, the country is mostly as before, with magi and shifters co-existing peacefully with humans. However, in the eastern part of the country, a class divide now exists with humans at the top, followed by shifters, and magi far below. Magis’ lives are rigidly controlled, they are considered lesser beings, and they have no rights. Shifters are treated marginally better, but still considered second class to humans. About 20 years ago, some witches tore a hole in the Veil with their magic, causing terrifying, dragon-like creatures called Taragorians to cross over into our realm. Magi and shifters have the unique ability to help trap and kill the creatures, and many are forced to work risking their lives for the Taragorian Response Department (TRD).
Madeo Driscoll was born into a magi compound and his life has been controlled by the government since birth. Madeo was bonded at just a few days old with his dyad, Jude. The two are deeply connected souls, with Madeo acting as the magic weaver, while Jude is the focus for his magic. The two have been working for the TRD since they were just teens, and risk their lives regularly to protect the humans who treat them so poorly. When the pair get assigned to a new TRD team with a pride of shifters, Madeo is wary. Even though shifters are also mistreated, they rank above magi in the hierarchy, and Madeo has suffered enough abuse at their hands not to trust them.
The Ono-Nai pride, led by alpha lion shifter Cosmo Ono-Nai, ends up being much better than Madeo could have hoped. The pride seems to be kind and friendly, and are shocked at the horror stories they hear about what Madeo and Jude have experienced at the hands of other shifters. Madeo even finds himself attracted to Cosmo despite himself; what’s more shocking is that Cosmo seems to like him in return. It is an adjustment for Madeo, as his whole life he has had to protect himself from humans and shifters who want to do him harm, so it takes some time for him to accept that the Ono-Nais are friendly and that Cosmo shares his feelings.
When the group stumbles upon a pattern of missing shifters, they begin investigating on their own, knowing that the government won’t care enough to open an official case. It is frustrating, but they refuse to stand back when people’s lives are at stake. When a human member of the TRD disappears, it is the permission they need to finally begin giving the case their full attention and resources. But someone is up to no good, with a dark magic that threatens everyone. It will take Madeo, Cosmo, Jude, and the rest of their team all they have to rescue the shifters and stop the horror before it is too late.
The Scars That Bind Us is the first novel in Michele Notaro’s The Magi Accounts series. I was intrigued by this series from reading Kris’ reviews of the ebooks, so I grabbed this one when I saw it out in audio. The world building and set up are really engaging and, overall, I enjoyed the story. However, my feelings about the book were impacted by my feelings about the audio narration, so I am going to start there before jumping into the story and writing itself.
The book is narrated by CJ Storm and this is my first time listening to his work. Overall, Storm’s voice is pleasant and he brings nice sense of animation and energy to the story. I think listeners who like his style are likely to enjoy this one in audio format. However, I had a really difficult time with his narration and I found myself very distracted while listening, with my focus frequently being pulled out of the story itself by the narrative choices. The biggest issue is that Storm has a tendency to break up the text into chunks, with seemingly little regard for whether it fits the intended meaning of the sentence. It is almost like there is a cadence to the narration, with breaks placed at specific points by default, rather than because it’s where it makes most sense. The narrative pace isn’t slow overall, so I didn’t feel like I could speed up the tempo. But there were these constant pauses at what felt like unnatural places that just was very distracting. Adding to that, Storm also placed emphasis in places that, again, didn’t always feel natural or in keeping with the meaning of the sentence. There were times where I got confused about what the author was saying because the emphasis in the narration threw off the meaning of the sentence. Storm speaks with animation and inflection, so it is not robotic by any means, but it almost felt like the audio was narrated without really thinking about the meaning of the text.
Madeo is the POV character and his voice also provides the background narration. I thought he sounded a little young for his age, but nothing problematic. But Jude’s voice didn’t feel consistent, nor did Cosmo’s. Jude often sounded a lot like Madeo, which got confusing since they were so often in conversation. Cosmo is also supposed to speak with a deep, rumbling voice, but for much of the book, it is so low as to sound overly fake. The first time he spoke, I was sort of shocked by his voice and wondered how I would make it through the whole book, but either I got used to it, or it wasn’t that consistently low the entire time. The other side characters were mostly fine; some had sort of strange accent choices, and they weren’t all easily distinguishable, but generally they worked. But unfortunately, with all of these issues, I found myself unable to fully focus on the story as I kept getting pulled out by what was going on with the narration.
Ok, so back to the story. Like I said, this one has some creative world building and I enjoyed the dystopian world Notaro builds. There is a nice sense of magi at the bottom of the ladder and we see enough examples of the difficulties they face to ground Madeo’s wariness of the Ono-Nais in something understandable. We get a good picture of the larger world, along with details about their jobs working for the TRD, as well as the battles with the Taragorians. We see a few big fight scenes as they have to take on creatures that have slipped through the Veil, and there is nice excitement. We also get a good sense of the magical world and how Madeo’s bond with Jude works, both in casting spells, but also personally between them. I enjoyed the way we see this close friendship, this intense intimacy between the men, but also how it doesn’t interfere with the growing romantic bond between Madeo and Cosmo. The story sets things up well for the series, and while the suspense part of the plot ties up, there are openings for future development as the books continue.
I do think the balance of the story was a little off for me, though. The mystery of what is happening to the shifters is sprinkled in very lightly for most of the book and doesn’t really become a focus until fairly late in the story. For most of the book, the plot mostly comes from watching them battle the Taragorians, which was interesting, but got a little repetitive with similar scenes. I found myself waiting for more action on the case. But I will say that this was likely also affected by the narration early on really causing me some stumbling blocks and slowing things down.
From a relationship end, there is a nice sweetness between Madeo and Cosmo. It takes Madeo a while not to see Cosmo and his pride as enemies, and then to slowly accept that they could be friends. So while he finds Cosmo attractive, this is a pretty slow burn in that Madeo is not even really thinking about the possibility of anything more with Cosmo for a lot of the book. Cosmo is kind and sweet and I enjoyed the way the pride takes in Madeo and his family and really gives them a nice sense of belonging. Madeo did come across as kind of young and naive (though he seems to be well over 30) and constantly confused by Cosmo’s interest, or why he wanted to hang out with him, etc. It just made him come across a little immature, and I think his young sounding voice emphasized that. I had trouble with the chemistry between the men, again, I think because of the narration. The sex scenes had the same tone as everything else, again with the weird pauses and awkward emphasis, so it took the heat out of the scenes for me.
In the end, I definitely enjoyed the story and would recommend it for fans of shifters, magic, or dystopian worlds. I think Notaro has created a really interesting and exciting set up to lead into future books. I am super intrigued by it all and would be interested in reading on. But I really didn’t connect with this narration and, unfortunately, that negatively impacted my experience overall.