three meant to be coverStory Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 12 hours, 2 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | Hoof and Fang Store
Book Buy Links:  Amazon | iBooks

Dorian was once part of a triad, with his partners Milo and Finn. The three went to school together, and started their careers as magical enchanters together. But when Finn died, it tore Milo and Dorian apart as well. Milo knows through his clairvoyance that he and Dorian are meant to be together, something Milo very much wants. But Dorian’s grief is too raw and he has been keeping Milo at a distance. That doesn’t stop the men from an occasional hookup, and Dorian can recognize in his deepest heart that he is not over Milo.

One day, as the men share a kiss, Milo’s vision also gets shared with Dorian. He sees a teen boy, clearly having just been attacked with a knife, and subsequently dying. Dorian has no idea who the boy is, but he badly wants to help. But Milo knows the harsh reality of his visions means he rarely has enough information to change the future, or to figure out which of the many possible futures a person might face. They don’t even know who the boy is, let alone how to help him, but the situation is intolerable to Dorian and he is desperate to help.

Dorian is a teacher at Gemini Academy, a school for teen witches. This year, he has a new homeroom class of students, just beginning their training. Dorian is stunned when he learns one of his new students, Caleb, is the boy from his vision. Dorian is sure that he can help save Caleb, that if he protects him, he can change destiny. But it soon becomes clear that there is more going on than just the potential death of a young witch. There are dangerous warlocks threatening the city, and somehow they seem to be connected with Caleb’s possible future. Dorian is determined to do whatever it takes to help, but the situation has become far more deadly, and more lives than just Caleb’s are at risk.

Three Meant to Be is the first book in M.N. Bennet’s Branches of Past and Future series. This story caught my eye when I read Kris’ enthusiastic review of the book, so when I had the opportunity to listen to the audio, I was eager to check it out. I really loved this story and found it exciting, with great world building, interesting characters, and a nice intensity balanced with a dash of humor.

The world building here is really interesting with the witches having a wide range of magical abilities. We spend a lot of time with Dorian and his students, which gives us a chance to really see the many different types of magic and how it is used. There are some really great scenes where Dorian is helping the class train for upcoming exams for their fledgling magic licenses. He puts them through various games and activities to test and practice their magic, which really showcases the magical world well and I found these scenes so much fun. Along with the world building within the school and magical educational system, there is also the larger system of witch guilds and their assorted politics and the larger adult world of magic. Both parts of the story are happening concurrently and ultimately intertwine to build the larger conflict.

This story has some nice twists and complexity, and the conflict becomes more than just stopping Caleb’s death, but also following along with the revelations as Dorian tries to figure out who is behind it all. The story has some really intense moments, particularly the big climax, which I found just incredible. Watching everyone use their magic and seeing how they manage to all work together in this high-stakes situation just made for a wonderfully choreographed battle.

Throughout the book, I really loved observing Dorian with his students. Dorian is grumpy and anti-social and pretty much acts like he hates everyone. But we see how much he truly cares through the way he interacts with his students. While he may claim that everyone annoys him, it is clear he is a staunch advocate for his students and determined to help them succeed at school. So I loved this bit of insight we get as we watch him interact with his class, particularly as they both exasperate and amuse him. Dorian’s interaction with the teens is often a chance for a bit of humor and to inject some lightness into an intense story. Some of the kids are really characters and I had laugh out loud moments at their antics — particularly one of the Gaels and his rooster familiar (aka “King Clucks, Peckfender of the Unhatched Dozen”). I swear, that rooster steals the show sometimes. Also, I can’t help but be amused that Dorian has two boys named Gael in his class. It is just a little thing, but so typical of real life school and so rarely done in a book to give two side characters the same name (and yet it was always immediately clear who was who).

Things are sort of a slow burn on the relationship end, at least if you can call something a slow burn when the men have previously been dating. Dorian’s grief over losing their third partner is still raw and, in his mourning, he has pushed Milo away. It is clear these two are meant for each other, but it takes Dorian a while to really recognize how important Milo is to him. Milo is this super famous enchanter who everyone recognizes and adores. He has this very clear public face and he knows how to command an audience. But with Dorian, we see the real Milo, and I liked this juxtaposition that shows just how close these two men are. I wish we had a little more information on what happened to cause Finn’s death, as well as more about their past relationship among the three of them. But I enjoyed seeing Milo and Dorian make their way back to each other, as well as how Milo’s sunshiney demeanor plays off of Dorian’s more grumpy one.

I listened to this book in audio with narration by Kirt Graves and he gives an excellent performance. Dorian and Milo have voices that fit their characters and I had no problem telling them apart in conversation. What is particularly impressive is how Graves manages this large cast of teens. Dorian has twelve kids in his class and, while some of them have larger roles than others, they all speak and the key characters have voices that are clearly recognizable. This is even more impressive when considering Dorian is often hearing the kids thoughts and they are coming out in a jumble of mental “voices” one after the other, which means Graves has to switch rapidly between them and still make the voices distinct. Graves keeps good pacing to the story and brings a nice energy to the intense moments. I really enjoyed the audio experience and can highly recommend it if you are interested in the book.

Overall, I found this a really wonderful story by a new-to-me author. I just loved this first installment and I am really eager to continue on in the series.