phoenix spy Rating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel


To most of the world, Dalmon Vecker is a prince of the small European nation of Mont de Leucoy. But to the supernatural world, he is the head of the Coven, a group tasked with protecting paranormals. However, Dalmon keeps another secret too: he and his family are not the fire mages they pretend to be, they are actually rare phoenix shifters. The five of them have lived countless lives over the centuries, dying fiery deaths and being reborn into new bodies with their souls and magic intact, but with no memories of their past lives.

Lucian Marwood knows he is about to be arrested by the Coven for crimes against shifters… and he is so glad. It is the only way Lucian can imagine escaping the horrible man who is controlling him and forcing him to help bind shifters to gain their magic. Lucian didn’t even know he had magic until after he took the job as a PA for Hank Hastings, but before he knew it, he was drawn into a world he couldn’t escape. Now, while he knows he will face consequences for his actions, Lucian feels like he can finally be free.

When Dalmon interrogates Lucian after his arrest, he finds the man strikingly familiar, as if they have met before. Dalmon is drawn to Lucian and begins to realize there may be a real connection between them. But Dalmon is also in the middle of a huge case for the Coven as they attempt to bring down the Shadow Board, a group of witches that seeks to expose the supernatural world to humans and gain dominance by subjugating shifters. The Coven is right on the cusp of uncovering more about the Shadow Board and Dalmon needs all his energy focused on the case. But when he realizes that Lucian has finder magic, he enlists Lucian’s help on behalf of the Coven. It not only provides a way for Lucian to do penance for his crimes, but also for the men to spend more time together.

As Lucian and Dalmon continue to work the case, it gives them the chance to get to know each other better and the connection between them grows stronger. But they also realize that they have a past, one that may seriously complicate their present lives. Not to mention that the two men are so different and would need to find a way to fit their lives, and their magic, together in a way that works for both of them. Now, Dalmon and Lucian must figure out if there is a way to make a relationship work together, all while fighting to stop the Shadow Board before it is too late.

Phoenix Spy is the first book in the new Brothers of Fire series by T.J. Nichols. The series is the third one set in the author’s Familiar Mates world, including the Familiar Mates and Outcast Pack series. The blurb for this book indicates that this series can stand alone, but I am not sure I agree. While this series provides new characters and a really interesting new direction, this story very directly spins off of the Familiar Mates series book, The Spy’s Familiar. There we get the story of the Coven investigating Hastings, the man who is using and controlling Lucian. It focuses on the investigation into Hastings’ crimes, as well as building the case against the Shadow Board. So while Lucian doesn’t play a major role there, the set up for this story happens in the other book. In addition, one of the Coven agents on the Hastings case is Dalmon’s nephew, Everest, who plays a substantial side role in The Spy’s Familiar. Through him we learn about the existence of the phoenixes and how the brothers are reborn into different lives. So all of that is to say, I really think readers would benefit from at least reading that book, but some overall familiarity with the Familiar Mates series would also help with some of the world building in this series.

I really loved the set up here and think Nichols has created a particularly interesting foundation for this series. The five phoenixes have essentially been hiding in plain sight for centuries. As they die, they are reborn as eggs into new lives. They do not remember their old lives, but retain their souls and magic. When they are reborn, they pretend to be various members of the royal family. For example, we know that Everest is now the crown prince, “born” to the current king (at least that is what the public is told), but in one of his past lives, he was the king himself. In order to remember their pasts, the men keep detailed journals about their previous lives that they read when they come of age. It is such an interesting premise and I think there is so much potential here for the series. The men are very close, as they are essentially family, and have been living out this series of lives together over and over. The added element of them being royalty adds another nice spin.

The fact that Dalmon is secretly a phoenix plays out significantly here, as he knows he has some sort of connection with Lucian. We learn the specifics in the story, but I don’t want to spoil it by revealing too much here. It adds a layer of complication to their developing relationship, though that is not really the primary conflict. Dalmon is a prince, a phoenix, and the head of the Coven. He is dedicated to his job, but it consumes his life. Not many people are interested in sticking around — or they are too interested, because all they care about is his fame. On the other hand, Lucian is a regular guy who suddenly found himself in a magical world. He has done terrible things and, for him, magic is something unwanted that has caused him so much pain. So the guys struggle to figure out how they fit together and both have a lot of doubts about whether they can be the right partner for the other.

I really enjoyed the set up here and the beginning is very exciting. However, I felt the book gets a little bogged down once the men start working together and the action slowed a lot for me. There is a lot of time where the men are sort of mired in uncertainty about their relationship and what they can offer, if they are right for the other man, etc. It just seems like we circle around the same issues over and over and things don’t really move forward. Then, at the end, everything wraps up so fast. There is a big mystery hanging over the story with regard to

Spoiler title
the men’s past, and specifically an action that Lucian took in a prior life that wrenched them apart.
. I was waiting for the big reveal to this major plot element, but instead it comes as almost a throwaway line, a sort of “oh by the way, we found this out” with virtually no detail and little impact. There is also a big decision looming for the men for the whole book with regard to Lucian and his magic and, again, it is sort of just dropped casually with little detail about this major event. So I think there are areas that needed tightening here and others that should have been expanded.

The story wraps up for Lucian and Dalmon, but there are some larger series arcs that look to carry into future books. I really love the idea behind this spin-off series and am very much looking forward to seeing how things develop as it continues.

Note: The author has a little short story set in this world focused on one of phoenix shifters who is missing. I think you can follow here without it, but it gives a little insight into the missing brother that looks to play out over the series. You can get it by subscribing to the author’s newsletter.

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