"Kickass start to a new UF series with dragons and mages"
Reviewed by Make Kay
Posted May 20, 2016
Young Adult Paranormal | Romance Paranormal
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
I've been a long term fan of Haines' H&W
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
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
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
exams. As an illusionist, she can't create her own
familiar the way the rest of the other students can, so
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
to find a familiar, and she sets off with Cormac to track
down access to a dragon who might be able to help her.
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
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
even feel like those of Simon in The Others series by
Bishop (a definite indicator of how much I like this
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
dab of suspense and a lot of kickass paranormal action.
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
crappy rent controlled apartment with her mother,
for treats she can't afford at her part time job in a
counting down the days until she graduates the secret
Blackhollow Academy school for magi. Only then will she
the certificate she needs to land her dream job in a
The problem? She needs a familiar to graduate.
As an illusionist, she doesn't have the ability to summon
create a familiar of her own. Her only option is to
a supernatural creature to let her bind it instead. Since
having a powerful Other at her beck and call would
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.
ExcerptViper 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
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
“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
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,
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
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.
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