Kaje Harper’s entry in the multi-author Carnival of Mysteries series is a small-town romance between a lonely elementary school teacher – who happens to be a sorcerer – and a sexy firefighter, featuring a snarky, fast-talking Conure and more than a touch of magic. The series is eventually going to boast sixteen titles and they can be read in any order; each one contains at least one visit to Errante’s Carnival of Mysteries, a magical, multiverse travelling show full of unusual acts, games, and rides which changes to suit the world it’s on, so each visit is unique and special. Magic Burning is a fun read with an intriguing storyline, the leads are likeable and their romance is nicely done.
School teacher Alan Hiranchai is out and proud – but is still hiding a very personal secret. He’s an unregistered sorcerer who has never learned to properly control his considerable power. In this world, magic is known to exist, but after a series of conflicts between ordinary humans and sorcerers known as The Upheavals, the magical community is now widely believed to be fairly ineffectual, confined to spiritualism and fortune-telling. Which is exactly how the sorcerers want things to stay; if they’re thought to have very little power, it’s safer for them all-round. Given that he never uses magic (because he can’t control it) Alan has never registered with the Sorcerers’ Council and is okay with flying under the radar.
Not flying under the radar, however, is Alan’s familiar, Sunny, a matchmaking Conure who is determined to set Alan up with hottie firefighter, Jason Miller. When the book opens, Sunny has faked yet another fire alarm in the building Alan lives in (for a twelve-inch bird, he’s really loud!), leading to another call-out for Jason’s crew. This time, however, Jason gives Alan his number before he leaves, and even though Alan knows sorcerers and ordinary humans shouldn’t mix, he decides to give Jason a call. After all, he’s not planning on marrying the guy – a few, hot, sweaty hook-ups are all he’s really looking for.
Jason has been interested in Alan – who happens to be his niece’s class teacher – for a while, but he’s not out, fearing that his big, fairly conservative family will turn their backs on him if he tells them who he really is. They all live in the same small town where everyone knows everyone and their business, his older brother is his boss at the firehouse and… yeah, he doesn’t plan on ending his twenty years in the closet any time soon.
Until he meets Alan, that is. Alan makes use of Jason’s number, they agree to meet up for dinner and to see where things go from there, and neither of them is thinking beyond a nice meal and possibly getting horizontal later on. Unfortunately, Jason is called out to an emergency, but even though they didn’t get to the sexy part of the evening, they enjoyed each other’s company enough to want to see each other again. Alan very quickly works out that Jason is closeted; it’s not ideal but he does get it – and anyway, it’s not like he’s signing up to be Jason’s dirty little secret long-term. A few rolls in the hay should be enough to see out his crush. Shouldn’t it?
The next time Alan and Jason get together, it’s Alan who has to leave early when his best friend – Erin, a healer – calls him in a panic to tell him that his former mentor, Sylvester (now in his nineties and not always as compos mentis as he used to be), has disappeared. Sylvester is safely retrieved and returned to Erin’s care – but the next time Alan sees him, he’s decided to summon him a familiar (forgetting Alan already has one in Sunny) and ends up summoning a firedrake which promptly flies off, intoning “Catch me if you can!”
It’s down to Alan to find the creature and send it back where it came from – but that’s a lot easier said than done, especially since Alan is unregistered and is therefore unable to request any help from the local Sorcerers’ Council. He can’t tell Jason what’s going on – even though firedrakes are drawn to fire and there is bound to be an increase in the number of fires in the area – and the fact that his own magic is so unpredictable doesn’t help. But he’s got to try, before the creature sets the town ablaze.
Kaje Harper does a great job here of intertwining the magical plot with the developing romance between Alan and Jason, which is sexy, sweet and full of chemistry. While they both start out wanting just a few hook-ups, it doesn’t take long for them to realise that there’s the potential for something more between them, and that they’re catching feelings; there’s a very real connection between them and their mutual affection comes through strongly. I liked the way Ms. Harper handles Jason’s coming out – there’s a bit of family drama but not too much, and his brother’s reaction is a nice surprise. There’s just one visit to the Carnival of Mysteries in this story, but it’s well-integrated, and the author imbues the place with a real sense of mystery and unpredictability. The big showdown, in which Alan struggles to trap the firedrake and send it back, is vividly written edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Magic Burning is set in the same world as Kaje Harper’s Necromancer series, but it’s a standalone; some characters from that series make cameo appearances, but you don’t need to read those books for this one to make sense.
If you’re in the market for a light-hearted fantasy romance, then you should definitely check this one out. It’s an entertaining read with a captivating magical storyline, a nice dash of humour, and a steamy, heartfelt romance at its centre. The worldbuilding is solid, and Sunny – whom Alan describes as a “combination of a yenta and Groucho Marx” is a terrific side-kick. I really enjoyed it and will probably check out some of the other books in the series to see what the other authors have made of Errante’s Carnival of Mysteries!
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