“Kickass start to a new UF series with dragons and mages”
“SMOKE AND MIRRORS is the first book in the new Blackhollow Academy young adult/new adult contemporary fantasy series by Jess Haines. I’m excited for more books in the series, because I freaking loved SMOKE AND MIRRORS. I’ve been a long term fan of Haines’ H&W Investigations, a kooky paranormal series with werewolves and magic. SMOKE AND MIRRORS has a very similar vibe, with magic users, dragons, and Others (like werewolves, centaurs, and vampires).
Kimberly is a girl in her last year at Blackhollow Academy learning magic. Kimberly is a rare illusionist, not a regular mage like all the others in her class. She and her mother are living in a crappy apartment and working as many hours as they each can to get by while Kimberly goes to school as well. Kimberly’s dream is to graduate and get a decent paying job in a coven so she can support her mother. But Kimberly can’t pass her finals and graduate unless she can get a familiar as part of her final exams. As an illusionist, she can’t create her own familiar the way the rest of the other students can, so she must find an Other who will let her bind them as her familiar. Her professor suggests that Kimberly find a dragon to bind, to protect her from all the abuse that Kimberly is receiving at school as a hated illusionist.
I’m not going to tell you too much of the rest of the story, because the true joy of the story is in the slow revelations. But I love just about each and every character in this book (except for the mean kids, which, let’s be honest, probably aren’t even liked by their own parents). Kimberly is young and unseasoned, but not stupid. She’s so good of heart, and so earnest, and so noble, and I adore her! Cormac Hunter is an antiquarian bookseller who Kimberly’s professor sends Kimberly to for help in finding a dragon. Kimberly is positively desperate to find a familiar, and she sets off with Cormac to track down access to a dragon who might be able to help her. The quest is utterly compelling. I love the insights of how Cormac thinks, and how stymied he is by the uncomplicated and ungreedy nature of Kimberly. Cormac gradually becomes an earnest fan of dear Kimberly, and it’s beautiful to watch their relationship deepen.
Fans of Rachel Aaron, Sierra Dean, and Michelle Sagara will enjoy this wonderful UF tale. The insights of Cormac even feel like those of Simon in The Others series by Anne Bishop (a definite indicator of how much I like this book, because I LOVE Anne Bishop’s books!). Haines’ SMOKE AND MIRRORS has all the right elements to keep me coming back for more- a plucky heroine, a grumpy yet noble hero, and a dab of suspense and a lot of kickass paranormal action.”
Review by Make Kay
Viper made a soft hissing sound of irritation between his teeth, pulling back from her. “Cormac has no vision. I know what I want and I’m prepared to offer anything to get it. You have but to ask.”
Well. There was one thing. Her cheeks flared crimson and she squirmed a bit before stuttering out another question, swallowing back her embarrassment.
“You keep a hoard like a dragon, right? I don’t suppose you would consider loaning me a little? I swear I’d pay it back.”
His head tipped to one side, and he looked her up and down anew. She suspected he was just noticing her frayed cuffs and cheap shoes. He’d been so intent on getting whatever it was he wanted out of her that he hadn’t paid attention to the package it came in until now. When she caught the very slight curl of his lip, there and gone in a flash, embarrassed heat filled her cheeks.
Feeling both dirty and humiliated, she ducked her head. “Never mind. I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do this.”
“Come now, I’m sure it’s not that hard. All it takes is a yes.”
“No,” she said, this time with a bit more vehemence. Cormac was right. There was something off about Viper, and never mind what a perfect ass she’d just made of herself. Worst of all, that flash of disgust showed he obviously had no respect for her. At least Cormac never made her feel tolerated. “Thank you for the offer, but I’ll find some other way of getting what I need.”
He slowly rose to stand, heaving a sigh as he settled back on his heels.
“That’s unfortunate. This would have been much easier if you had agreed.”
Kimberly would have asked what he meant by that, but the look in his eyes froze her in place.
His eyes burned a molten gold as he spread his arms, which were expanding and shifting at an alarming rate. Faster than she might have thought possible, he was growing, his clothing melting and skin disappearing under a layer of metallic scales. Nearby, people were noticing, shouting and screaming in fear as they stampeded in every direction to escape the shapechanging Other in their midst.
When he ceased growing, from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, he was over thirty feet long, with a wingspan half again that size.
Kimberly sat immobile, unable to so much as squeak in terror as the beast before her lurched back to arch its neck and spread its wings, barbed tail lashing as it growled at her. One thick, talon-tipped paw lashed out, flattening her on the grass and squeezing the air out of her lungs. It gave an awkward, one-legged hop forward to catch its balance before clenching its claws to dig deep furrows in the grass and close around her waist and legs, pinning her.
Then those wide, ribbed wings began to flap, the sun playing off the tones of brass and copper and gold. The ground fell away, people scattering before the airborne monster.
And Kimberly could do nothing but pray, staring up at this great beast that had her in its claws.
She’d gotten what she’d asked for. Now she would have to pay the price.
About SMOKE AND MIRRORS
A girl who uses her illusions to fool the world into thinking she’s just like all the other magi.
A dragon who sees through her lies.
Together they just might survive a world that wants to control or destroy them both.
Kimberly may wield ultimate cosmic power, but even a mage has to pay the rent. No one will hire her for her magic talents until she’s got the credentials, so she’s stuck in a crappy rent controlled apartment with her mother, yearning for treats she can’t afford at her part time job in a café, counting down the days until she graduates the secret Blackhollow Academy school for magi. Only then will she have the certificate she needs to land her dream job in a coven.
The problem? She needs a familiar to graduate.
As an illusionist, she doesn’t have the ability to summon or create a familiar of her own. Her only option is to convince a supernatural creature to let her bind it instead. Since having a powerful Other at her beck and call would guarantee her a place in a coven after she graduates—and legendary treasure hoards are an added bonus—she thinks binding a dragon as her familiar will solve all her problems…
Because sometimes a girl needs a dragon, not a knight.
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About Jess Haines
I’m a displaced New Yorker with a penchant for the silly, the obscure, and the fantastical. Tampa, Florida is home for the time being. I’m currently working on the H&W Investigations urban fantasy series and the Blackhollow Academy young adult contemporary fantasy series. Find out more about my books, drop me a line, or join my mailing list at my website!