Kana is a rare male witch and so he is barely tolerated by his coven, particularly now that has come out as gay and won’t be producing biological heirs (aka future female witches). Kana plans to head out on his own as soon as he completes the ceremony to find his familiar. Little does he expect to call not one, but two familiars, and rare cats at that. Kana knows that if the coven realizes just how much power he really has, they will never let him leave and likely will force him to breed. So he sneaks away and spends years covering his tracks to ensure they will never find him.
Now, Kana is working as a journalist in New York and living with his familiars, Mika and Sora. When some vampires move into town, Kana’s boss decides they want to get the exclusive scoop and interview the vampires. Kana knows it is a spectacularly bad idea, but his stubborn boss refuses to agree. No one in Kana’s life knows he is a witch, but as much as his boss irritates him, Kana won’t let his colleagues be in danger, so he creates some protection spells for them. Unfortunately, the whole situation falls apart and Kana finds himself on the radar not just of the vampires, but their wolf shifter bodyguards as well.
Despite the danger, Kana can’t help but notice Ember, the shifter head of vampire security. And when it turns out that the wolves need some help, Kana is ready to step in where he can. It is not going to be easy, and certainly dangerous, but Kana is committed to helping Ember and making sure to stop those looking to cause trouble in their town.
Coven is the first book in Mell Eight’s new Witch’s Circle series and it has a really interesting start. The book opens with Kana just coming of age and preparing to call his familiar. He has already decided he wants to leave the coven, given their disdain for him as a gay, male witch. But as soon as he ends up summoning two cat familiars, a sign of immense power, he knows he has to flee before anyone finds out and he ends up trapped and used by the coven. This opening portion is fairly short, but I found it engaging to see Kana use his magic and call his familiars, and it was a good way to set things up. The story then jumps forward to present day after Kana has finally covered his tracks enough to get a degree and ultimately a job (the exact timing isn’t clear, but I’d guess 6+ years later). No one at work knows Kana is a witch, though the existence of magical beings seems well known in general. But Kana can’t risk too many people knowing about his abilities for fear his old coven will track him down.
The conflict comes when Kana first gets stuck trying to both negotiate for and protect his bosses as they foolishly insist on interviewing the vampires, all while keeping them in the dark that he is a witch. I won’t get into too much detail on how things play out with the vampires, but things go badly on multiple fronts and Kana finds himself suddenly on the supernatural radar after years of laying low. Things get further complicated when the shifters come to him for help and Kana puts himself at risk to help them out of trouble. I found this part of the story interesting, particularly the set up leading to and around the vampire interview. However, the pacing just felt off here to me. This is a shorter novel and we spend a lot of time building a foundation and then very little time actually seeing the conflict play out and resolve. For example, the story goes into great detail on things like the furnishings of the vampires’ home and the process of following the guards into the interview rooms. Then when we finally get down to the crux of the conflict, everything seems to happen in a blink with no real build up and suddenly it’s all over. It felt like the first two-thirds of the book is spent telling only the first third of the overall story. So by the time we get into the actual meat of the story, everything rushed to conclusion in the small number of remaining pages.
In terms of the personal side of things, this one isn’t a romance and it’s really just barely a start of even a friendship between Kana and Ember. The men meet and Kana notes Ember is attractive. Kana agrees to help out the wolves and their adversarial relationship from earlier in the book thaws enough to work together and for Ember to be appreciative of Kana’s help. But that is really it and these guys are barely friends at the end of the book, let alone in any kind of romantic, emotional, or physical relationship. Given this is the first in a series, I am assuming (hoping) that things develop further for Kana and Ember in future books, but right now, there really isn’t much to this relationship. The real emotional connection for Kana comes from his two familiars, Sora and Mika, who have human forms, along with their house cat and giant cat forms. The three of them are sexually and emotionally involved, though they don’t seem to see each other as romantic partners or anything. But we do get some implied sex scenes, as well as some minor on-page sexual interactions among the three of them.
I think the pacing here needed some work to give the story a little more balance, but I did enjoy the book and found the set up interesting. I liked all the characters and enjoyed the playful dynamic between Kana and his familiars. I will be looking forward to seeing what is to come next for this group.