shackles that hold us audio coverStory Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars

Narrator: CJ Storm
Length: 12 hours, 25 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links:  Amazon | iBooks

Madeo can hardly believe he is friends with the shifters in his unit, let alone that he is in a relationship with alpha lion shifter, Cosmo Ono-Nai. Cosmo and the rest of the pride are nothing like other shifters Mads has met, and they have welcomed him, his dyad Jude, and their adopted brother, Logan, into their family. In fact, Cosmo would love nothing more than for the three magi to move into the pride house with them. Cos and Mads spend most of their nights together as it is, and the Ono-Nais have more than enough room for three more. But as much as he cares for and trusts Cosmo, Mads still isn’t quite ready to let go of the security of their own apartment. It is almost impossible to find anyone willing to rent to magi, and Madeo worries if things go bad with Cosmo, they will be left with no place to live. But when Madeo and Jude’s lives are threatened, Cosmo is ready to tear down the world to help. Seeing how much he and the pride truly care about them helps Mads to feel more comfortable about taking steps forward in their relationship.

Even as things are getting to be more solid between Madeo and Cosmo, the situation with the witches is becoming increasingly dire. The team is being called in to close bigger rifts with more taragorians and signs of witch magic. Even worse, they are finding signs of dead shifters, signaling they are somehow part of the witches’ plan. But just what the coven is trying to accomplish is still unclear. The battles get increasingly dangerous and the situation is more deadly. It will take all the team has to try to stop the witches and keep themselves alive in the process.

The Shackles That Hold Us is the second full novel in Michele Notaro’s The Magi Accounts series (and the third book counting the shorter story, A Kiss to Revive Me, that comes in between the first two novels). This is an interesting, post-apocalyptic world where magi and shifters are considered second-class citizens and used as fodder to fight the beastly taragorians that come through a rift into their world. Magi are particularly poorly treated, with no rights at all and subject to the whims of humans. Here we see that really clearly with a dark and horrifying situation that happens early on where Madeo and Jude are subject to some intense torture for perceived transgressions. I don’t want to get into too much detail about how all this develops and what happens, but be aware that the situation is just awful and much of the torture is detailed on page. I think this section does serve to really highlight just how much abuse magi face and how much their lives are truly not their own. The situation also leads to things moving forward with Mads and Cosmo for a variety of reasons. I definitely found it intense, maybe too much so for the tone of the rest of the story. But that said, I do think Notaro ties it well to the story as a whole.

After this first portion of the book, the focus here mostly shifts to the rapidly developing relationship between Madeo and Cos, as well as the bigger picture with the witches. On the relationship front, we get some nice forward progress for the guys and I was left feeling like they are really on stable ground. We also get some nice growth in terms of Mads, Jude, and Logan finally feeling truly a part of the pride and like the Ono-Nais are really family. There is a nice found family vibe to this series and things develop well here. On the suspense end, we start to see more evidence of the witches at some of the rifts, taking a key scene from the last book and building upon it well. The aren’t any answers here yet as to what is going on, but we do see the situation expanded upon to start building the conflict. I don’t always feel like the battle scenes totally work for me in these books. Sometimes they feel a little flat, particularly when Madeo is listing off each of the runes he is activating, or counting how many he is holding over and over (though that may be in part due to the narration). But here we get a huge battle scene that is really well done. Notaro does a nice job managing the action on multiple fronts with intense scenes, exciting moments, and some sad and tragic situations.

I have been listening to this series in audio narrated by C.J. Storm and, if you have read my first two reviews, you will know I have been struggling with the narration. After really having trouble with the first book, I gave the second one a chance and things were a little better there (perhaps because it was so much shorter?). So I tried this third story and, unfortunately, I found many of the same issues continued to really bother me. Storm’s vocal cadence just feels so slow and stilted with odd pauses; there doesn’t feel like a natural flow of either narration or conversation. While he does speak with inflection and a sense of performance, Storm places emphasis in awkward places that don’t always seem to relate to what is actually being said. The thing that makes me the must frustrated is the way he handles dialog, placing an extreme emphasis on the word “said” with an awkward pause before the dialog. I am not sure I can convey it in text, but something like: “I walked over to the door and SAID… … come on in”. It is just so jarring hearing it over and over, basically every time there is a dialog tag.

I can tell when narration isn’t working for me, as I find myself constantly thinking about how the narrator is speaking, or comparing the audio to how I imagine I would hear it in my head if reading it. And unfortunately, that was happening all the time here. I don’t mean to belabor or beat on this narrator, I just am not finding his style is working for me, which is disappointing, since I am enjoying the books. I already have the next book for review in audio, so I’ll give it one more shot and see how things go, and then make a decision about continuing on.

Overall, I am finding this an interesting series with engaging world building. I like the found family aspect and the way the pride is bringing the magi into their close group. We get some nice relationship development here, as well as some progress on the larger plot arc. If you are an urban fantasy fan, this could be a good series to check out.