Snow leopard shifter River has been part of the Ono-Nai pack ever since Cos rescued them as a teenager. River has always been drawn to pack mate and cheetah shifter Kulani, but it seemed clear to them early on that Kulani only thought of them as a trusted friend. However, Kulani has been drawn to River ever since they arrived and, as their friendship has grown, fell in love with them. For years, they both have been dancing around each other without talking about their feelings. With magi, Jude, and his dyad, Mads, joining the pack, both River and Kulani also feel drawn to Jude. But it’s clear to both of them that Jude has a lot to work through, and even though they both want more from Jude, they do their best to support him in every way he needs without going further than friendship.
Jude takes time to settle into the pack, but he knows he and Mads have finally found a loving and supportive home. What confuses Jude is his attraction to both River and Kulani. He’s too afraid to say anything, more worried about messing up his friendships with them both, as well as the dynamic of the pack, to be able to take that step. But when Kulani starts pulling away from both Jude and River, they know they need to act. Kulani, for his part, loves both Jude and River, but wants nothing more than for them to be happy, even if that means stepping out of the picture. Though the three of them are able get back on an even keel, it’s without talking about their deeper feelings. It takes them a very long time for them all to be on the same page and finally are able to talk about things. When they do, the three agree to try dating, but take their relationship slowly.
While the three of them are trying to navigate their own emotions at home, the Order of the Red Cloth has been suspiciously quiet. Though the team is still searching for leads about the evil witches, things have been frustratingly silent. And that worries Jude, who is waiting for the other shoe to drop. When things come to a head in the field and they finally find a lead, it is more terrible than they ever expect. But with all three of them able to support each other, they just might get past this hurdle, though the danger is far from over.
An Embrace to Hearten Me is book is labeled as a companion novel to the main Magi Accounts series, and the author has been putting out “side” stories to go along with the main storyline from the start. But it cannot be read alone and needs to be included within the reading order of the main series, as pertinent details are not only referenced, but new ones are revealed. The events of this story take place after book 3, A Purpose That Restores Us. This is a long book and there’s a lot going on, both on the relationship side of things, as well as the main mystery.
Let me start by saying the Jude has been a favorite character of mine since the very beginning, and I was very excited to see him get his story, as he deserves nothing but sunshine and roses, unicorns, and all the good things. Not only because of the life he’s been forced to live, though things are better since he and Mads joined the pack, but because he’s just a sweetheart who shouldn’t have to suffer. The author has been dropping moments between the three MCs in previous books, so it’s clear where things are going for them before this book even starts. And I was here for it. Jude, Kulani, and River work well together, supporting each other and understanding each other in a way that is deeper than with the rest of the pack. For all of them to get their moments to shine was really nice to see, and for them to get their truly happy moment at the end really made me happy too.
But this book was not without it’s flaws for me. Like the rest of the series, it’s told in first person POV. This book is primarily from Jude’s POV, though Kulani gets a fair amount of page time too. River, it seemed, got the least amount of POV chapters. This imbalance was the first thing I noticed, and while not actually detrimental to the story in any way, it did stick out. Where my troubles really came from was the pacing. For over half the book, all three MCs are in a state of inaction, all of them thinking pretty much the same thing: that if they tell either of the other two that they want more, it’s going to ruin their friendship. All three of them are painfully oblivious to the other two’s attraction to them. And while it made sense in the beginning, and in regards to the trauma all three have faced—which is horrible in all regards, but different—it also got tiresome as a reader. After the first third of the book, I was desperate for them to just finally have the conversation they needed to have. It got repetitive seeing them continually ignore the signs and not just talk to one another. Because of this, when they finally did have the conversation, the rest of the book felt rushed in a way. The three went from zero to sixty in regards to the relationship, though the physical side of things took a bit longer.
In the same vein, the mystery side of things was also painfully slow for much of the book. The team continually came up against the same lack of information, and many of the scenes were very similar because of it. It was repetitive and seemingly unnecessary to keep having the same scenes as the book went on. On the flip side, when they did finally get a lead, it was a twist I didn’t see coming, made my heart jump, and had me feeling for the characters even more.
I love the found family aspect of this series. I love watching in each book as they grow as a pack, and as Jude, Mads, and the other magi find their place with the Ono-Nais. I love the complex world building and the interesting magic system, as well as the dystopian world this book is set in. This series gets dark at some moments, and the author does a great job of getting us back to a better place after those kinds of scenes. But I do feel, in this book in particular, that it could have used some tightening up and earlier progression of the major plot points
That being said, the major storyline is moving forward, getting darker and twistier, and it’s only ramping up the anticipation of a spectacular and satisfying ending. There are two more books slated for the main series, and another companion story (which I have high hopes for the MCs in that one). Though the series is not without it’s flaws for me, I’m still invested and looking forward to the books to come.