Dark Wizard is a captivating love story which takes place in a world where some humans are powerful wizards and others are their shape-shifting familiars.
Lady Nic (Veronica) Elal was raised to be her father’s heir and lead their powerful, wealthy magical House. That plan assumed her sorcery would manifest as wizarding power, the alchemy which allows conjuring, but when the test results come back, she is branded a Familiar, a form of witchcraft where the holder must cede their power to a Conjurer. The label dooms her to life as a second-class citizen, where she will marry and serve as little more than a slave and breeder for a powerful wizard. This is the best-case scenario, and to achieve even that small bit of dignity she has to undergo the Betrothal Trials. These “tests” involve imprisoning Nic in a tower room, where once a month she is serviced by a wizard who pays a fortune to impregnate her within one night. Nic then waits, still imprisoned, for thirty days and if his seed doesn’t take, they are considered genetically incompatible and Nic must repeat the cycle with a different man. Her only hope for freedom and control over her own life is to manipulate her future husband and the initial candidates have been carefully culled by Nic and her mother to ensure Nic can use charm and guile to influence her wizard master and rise to rule whatever magical House she marries into.
Their plan is a disaster. Her first three trials are little more than transactions. Nic and her mother lay out a delicious meal, served with good wine, and Nic’s hope is to engage in conversation before heading to bed but it doesn’t work out that way. The wizards enter the room, tell her to lift her skirts and enter her with no more verbal exchange between them. Nic is used to this scenario by the fourth month and expects nothing different from Lord Gabriel Phel. He completely surprises her.
Gabriel’s House has been decimated and the only hope for his people to survive and thrive is to restore it to its former station in the Convocation’s complex archaic society. While his moon/water magic is not considered very useful, he is extremely powerful, and his hope is to unite with an equally powerful Familiar to enhance his skills and gain prominence in the wizarding world. Veronica Elal offers not only her off-the-charts Familiar magic, but is also a highborn daughter of a wealthy family who comes with a nice dowry and will give Gabriel a connection to the nobles of the land. He all but beggars himself for the opportunity to take part in her Betrothal Trials and anxiously awaits his chance to meet her.
She isn’t what he expected. Veronica, who tells him to call her Nic, is as beautiful and bright as he could possibly have hoped for but there is also a vulnerability and a passion there that offer a promise of not just a relationship built on power but friendship and love.
He isn’t what she expected. Gabriel treats Nic with kindness and courtesy and seems genuinely interested in her – not just as a womb and servant but as a person. He eats the meal she lays out for them and engages her in a battle of wits throughout it. Their night together is no mere coupling but a genuine love-making, a wonderful experience for both of them and when they part the next morning after a tender, lucky number seven bout of sex, Nic is hopeful they will never see each other again. She likes Gabriel far too much for her own good.
Nic, of course, becomes pregnant by Gabriel which means that she will not only have to see him but marry him. She and her mother concoct yet another ridiculous scheme, this time for her escape, only later realizing that this puts Nic at the mercy of the Convocation’s evil Hunters, magically enhanced beings who will chase her till she is caught and then bring her back to the Convocation for punishment. And so, our adventure into love and mayhem begins.
Kennedy has created a darkly compelling, fascinating world here that reads a bit like The Witcher meets The Handmaid’s Tale. The author does a nice job of showing how terrible the situation in that society is for Familiars but also of showing how fabulous this world full of magic could be if it was a more just, equitable and gentle place.
Gabriel is a terrific hero. He came to his magic late in life and is an outsider to the world of wizards having never gone to a Convocation school or been part of arcane Society. He brings kindness and his belief in equality to his interactions with Nic. He is brave, true, loyal, worthy, smart, generous – practically perfect in every way. I especially admired his devotion and loyalty to Nic and their baby. He doesn’t go along with the Convocation’s plan to capture and punish Nic and return her to him a broken, contrite Familiar. Instead, he goes after her on his own as a protector and ally. This is direct interference in the Convocation’s plan and Gabriel risks a lot to help her. While the two of them have amazing chemistry, Gabriel works hard to create an equally intense bond between them, emotionally and intellectually. He wants a full partnership with Nic, one where they both work to do what is best for the people who depend on them and for their family. It’s lovely to watch him woo her and to see the trust and love develop between them.
I was less fond of Nic than of Gabriel. I like my heroines clever and resourceful, and those were weak points for her. For an insider, who is meant to understand the Convocation and its ways, Nic is woefully ignorant of what they are like. The plans she and her mother come up with – both to manage her husband and for her escape – are more wishful thinking than strategy. There are plenty of times Nic acts heroically in the book, but those moments are written in such a manner as to very much remind you that you are reading a novel because those instances require Gabriel or others to act out of character in order to give Nic a chance to be the star of the show.
It’s because of Nic and her often immature and ill-thought-out behaviors that Dark Wizard doesn’t quite reach DIK status. That said, the world building here is amazing and provocative, and Gabriel is such an amazing hero that I would still recommend this novel to anyone looking for an enchanting fantasy romance.