jlgribble.com | Book Review: A Mage's Guide to Human Familiars (R'iyah Family Archives #1) by A.J. Sherwood

American readers of a certain age probably got a strange hit of nostalgia while reading this delightful queer paranormal romance novel. The ways Sherwood presents the mage/familiar bond and how Bel interacts with both Nico and Garen gave me lovely echoes of the television show Sentinel; however, this book is not fanfic with the serial numbers filed off. Instead, it’s a unique look at a fun urban fantasy world, and I thoroughly appreciated Sherwood’s subtle worldbuilding to introduce us to all the important elements without ever info-dumping. How all of the characters, primary and secondary, use magic is less overt adventure and more like any particularly dangerous job. This approach does not reduce the story’s excitement but allows the author to focus on developing relationships between our three main heroes. I loved this balance and never felt like either element of the story outweighed the other.

Speaking of our heroes, Sherwood also does a fantastic job of portraying three vastly different personalities who balance each other perfectly. Bel contains the maturity necessary to handle his abilities and occupation, but I enjoyed how his youth shined through when it came to how he both reacted to and interacted with Nico and Garen. The other two characters might be older, but they never dismissed Bel for his age, which was a conflict I had feared would crop up. Instead, they are solid characters who gave this story all the best bits of a second-chance romance but without the unnecessary angst since circumstances drove them apart rather than any trauma. Their reconnection could have resulted in an unbalanced romance, but Sherwood provided a delicious slow burn on all sides until the three men were on the same page. Ultimately, I adored how Bel’s assertiveness provided that final element for their happily ever after.

I have no idea where this series will go, but I know I’ll be along for the ride. Sherwood neatly resolves the immediate plot and relationship threads while leaving plenty of potential for further adventures. I’m especially curious about whether Bel’s first failed familiar will ever show up. But I’d also be thoroughly content to follow this trio of lovers (and the fun cast of secondary characters) on any further adventures.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

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