The power of werewolves enhances mage magic, which is a big part of how werewolf packs protect themselves. In this day and age, mages and werewolves typically enter into so-called transactional bonds. It’s a way both parties can benefit from this dynamic without one party becoming an unwilling captive of the other. Still, it’s not uncommon for mages to become “pack mage” for a werewolf pack. And that is a cliche Elijah is determined to avoid, dedicating his entire life to study and hard work in order to prevent that very future. With his studies complete, Elijah’s first step towards cementing his freedom from any wolves is to convince the mage Council that, despite his young age, Elijah is truly the best candidate to take over a Council-sanctioned shop in Lost Creek. Of course, Elijah knows that the previous owner was involved in something janky; that fact, and the significant down payment Elijah can afford, make his case for becoming the next owner. Once Elijah’s settled in rural Lost Creek, he is determined to maintain neutrality amongst the three packs in the area—all lacking any mage of their own. That doesn’t seem too hard, even when Victor Mills, the youngest and arguably most attractive alpha, strides into his shop. Why? Because Elijah merely wishes to avoid getting too attached to any one pack, but Victor seems to actively hate mages and their magic.
The Mills pack traditionally never relied on the services of neutral mages to help set the wards that protect their vast territory. This is because, since time immemorial, nearly all prior generations of the Mills pack have made true bonds with willing mages. That came to an end when Victor’s father and former alpha of the pack had a serious misfortune. The whole ordeal left Victor the alpha of the pack, his father getting exiled to live with far away relatives, and Victor worrying that he’s not strong enough to keep it all together at such a young age. To add insult to injury, the centuries-old wards—established by a truly bonded wolf/mage pair—protecting his territory are starting to fail. With no mages in his pack, Victor is forced to go to the local Council-sanctioned shop. There, he meets the new owner, Elijah. The man is devastatingly handsome, but reeks of magic. Still, Victor needs to protect his pack. As he grudgingly begins to work with Elijah, Victor realizes he may have judged at least this one mage too harshly. Time will tell if these two are able to address the root cause of Victor’s ward problems and deal with the undeniable attraction that simmers so close to the surface.
Accidental Bonds is the first book in the Elemental Bonds series by author Marie Renard. It’s set in rural America and the action flip-flops between our two main characters, Victor and Elijah. I thought the alternating perspectives offered a great depth of insight into these two men. This is especially true of Victor, because although he loudly and vociferously discusses how much he hates magic and distrusts mages, seeing him interact with his pack and seeing his pack interact with Elijah reveals a deeper truth. I delighted in seeing layer after layer of Victor’s get peeled away to explain why he is the way he is and how Elijah manages to rise above Victor’s distrust.
The overall pacing of the story felt very good. Here too, the alternating perspectives helped develop the plot and the romance equally, keeping things interesting. I was impressed with how the kernel of the main conflict (Victor’s wards and why they’re failing) got spread out across the entire book without feeling too much like the plot was stagnating. Admittedly, there is a bit of a loop where a sort of “rot” is infecting the wards, the land, and more. That said, it’s all connected to the truth about why the wards are failing and even the progression of what, exactly, is rotting felt like an evolution. Plus, the fact that Elijah has to repeatedly visit the Mills pack territory to help (he swore to continue helping until the root of the problem got addressed) perfectly sets the stage for maximum Elijah/Victor time.
The romance was a surprisingly long, slow burn with incredible spice. Both Victor and Elijah instantly recognize how attractive the other is, but that’s hardly enough to thaw the chill between them. Their individual stated goals (Victor hating magic and mages, Elijah dead set on avoiding the pack-mage cliche) work overtime in helping these two deny the chemistry that their supernatural selves are practically singing from the hills. For example, Victor’s wolf is all but panting with delight as soon as Elijah enters the scene. Similarly, Elijah notices how effortless tapping into Victor’s power is, even for transactional mage services. It was only all too easy to recognize that these two are embodying the fated mates trope, but too dense to realize it. It was fun, though, that one of Victor’s pack mates takes Elijah by the hand to explain that even though true bonds (this universe’s version of fated mates) exists, it’s not like there’s an instant tell that everyone immediately recognizes. So while these two dance around their growing intimacy and go to ever farther lengths to deny the obvious, the connection is there. And it drives them to take “matters” into their own hands (read: several intense self gratification scenes).
All in all, I found Accidental Bonds to be a truly engrossing story. The will-they-won’t-they romance was hot regardless of which end of the spectrum the two love interests were on at any given point. The portrayal of mage and wolf dynamics is well explained on page. There is less said about the “councils” that govern werewolves and mages, but there are inklings that they might play a bigger role in future books. I was also tantalized by some foreshadowing of what the conflict in the sequel could be. If you’re a fan of enemy-to-lover stories, the fated-mates trope, werewolf tales (especially where there werewolf has a seemingly distinctly separate wolf identity), or magical characters, then I think you’ll enjoy this!