Rating: 4.25 stars
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Elethen knows he is about to die. He is a notorious thief that somehow has ended up getting caught for stealing a loaf of bread, and in a land where the rich get richer and the poor starve, Elethen is about to be put to death for his crimes. But somehow, he manages to escape, stumbles upon someone opening a magical portal… and finds himself in another world.
Blaze Keyes is a mage and a seer — not as good a seer as his twin brother, River, but good enough to know that the world is ending on their 25th birthday… which is tomorrow. Neither brother has seen a future past this date, but Blaze has no idea how the end of the world is going to come about, which means he doesn’t know any way to stop it. When Blaze encounters Elethen appearing in the human world, the two mages recognize the magic in one another. While Blaze has no idea how to save the world, he figures at least he can try to help Elethen return to his own realm before time runs out.
However, it doesn’t take long before it becomes clear that the situation is bigger than one elf coming through a magic portal. Someone is after Elethen and threatening all their lives. With River’s help, Blaze and Elethen try to untangle who is after them and why. As the end of the world looms ever closer, there may just be a chance hope is not lost after all. But with danger around every corner, surviving long enough to help ensure the future may be impossible.
The Elemental Keyes is the first book in Sam Burns’ new Circle the Square duet and I absolutely loved it. I have tried not to be too specific about just what happens here, as so much of the fun is watching Blaze and Elethen learn what is really going on. But this story is twisty and exciting and really so clever. The set up here is so interesting, with these two mages from different realms coming together. Elethen is a spirit mage, something that has completely died out in the human world, leaving only elemental mages like Blaze and River. Spirit and elemental mages working together can create immense magic, so the loss of the spirit mages has changed the human world for the worse. But it also means that Elethen and Blaze as a pair have an enhanced magic that starts to work together. What I found clever here is that with both men being mages, when Elethen shows up, they sort of immediately understand one another. Typically in this type of story, the human would be thrown by this magical being appearing from another world (and the newcomer confused in return). But because magic exists in both worlds, the two are able to quickly understand what happened, find common ground, and begin working together, even if Elethen does need some time to acclimate to the human realm.
As the men first connect, Blaze’s plan is just to try to help Elethen get back to his world before the human one is destroyed. But the suspense kicks up quickly as they are attacked and threatened by various people and it becomes clear that there is a larger plot afoot. Again, I don’t want to get into it too much for fear of spoiling anything, but the plot is exciting and intense as we learn what is really going on and start to understand what these various factions actually want. I will note that this is a two-book series and this story ends on a cliffhanger leading into the second book. However, The Elemental Ruins comes out in just a few weeks, so you don’t have long to wait if you read this one now. I will warn you, however, not to read the blurb for book two until after you finish this story, as it will give away some key things about how this book ends. I found there were a number of directions things could go leading into the second book and I enjoyed the suspense of seeing how it played out, so don’t spoil yourself for that story.
I enjoyed Blaze and Elethen together a lot. Blaze is a former cop and a rule follower, while Elethen is a thief. Yet they connect so well, both having a deep sense of caring and empathy for others that makes them a good fit. I also really liked Blaze’s twin River, who happens to be a criminal himself. River is snarky and arrogant, but loves his brother and would anything for him. There is this interesting kinship between River and Elethen as two men on the wrong side of the law who are absolutely committed to protecting Blaze.
I will say that while overall I thought the world building was really engaging, I found some things a little underdeveloped in terms of the human world. We know that when the spirit mages died out, the world suffered from the loss of this massive magic. And there is this tiny bit of a dystopian element in some of the physical descriptions of the city (which is called New Los Angeles, implying the old city is gone). But really, the world feels exactly like our modern day real world. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a different time period, but there is no futuristic technology or anything to suggest it wasn’t our regular present day, despite the fact that the city was presumably a rebuilt version of L.A. So I felt like that was somewhat a missed opportunity to really make something out of that part of the world building. I also think things get complex at points as there are two main groups of bad guys, plus Blaze’s awful ex-boyfriend rolling around, and then also his asshole former police partner threatening him, and it was maybe one too many things happening. I am not really sure the whole thing with the former partner was really needed at all; while he does advance some of the action, I think it could have happened other ways so we didn’t have so many antagonists to manage. And lastly, this story has what may be my new favorite romance term — danger boner (sadly I can’t take credit for coining it). Which is basically when people in life threatening situations get horny and have sex at inappropriate times. There is a point where literally bad guys are going house to house looking for them and, before hiding, they stop to have sex in the open hallway. (Not to be too graphic, but they then leave come on the floor, when they need the bad guys not to know they are in the house!) So I had to roll my eyes a bit there, but overall I found the suspense elements and connection between the men well done.
Any quibbles I had here were small, however, and I found this story super engaging. I was drawn in right from the start and eager to see if and how these guys could save the world. Things reach a good resolution point in this first book, but as I said, the journey continues in book two. I am really excited to see how it all comes together and definitely can recommend this story. Grab it now so you are ready when book two arrives in a few weeks!
This does sound good, Jay! I’m off to get a sample….