Smoke and Mirrors by Jess Haines: NA Dragon Shifter Romance I Want The Sequel to Now

Smoke and Mirrors follows Kimberly, a sorcerer in a mage’s world, as she tries making her way by finding a familiar. She’s hoping to convince a dragon to give her a shot, and her mentor sends her to meet Cormac, a mysterious bridge between mages and shifters.

While I have a few favorite series, I’m not the biggest fan of paranormal romance. New Adult is even more fraught with issues and I support the idea behind it, but I have even fewer in this category.
And here comes along Smoke and Mirrors, which is both.

The instant I heard “dragon” I wanted in, but the genres did make me hesitate.

The good news is it surprised me in a lot of ways and I can highly recommend it.

Series: Blackhollow Academy #1
Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Urban,
Age: NA
Format: Ebook, 290 pgs.
Source: Free for review RAVBT
Rating: 4 Stars
Recommendable? Yes
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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The Good The Bad & The Other
+ Loved Kimberly - Standard genre tropes and plot so I knew in general what would happen
+ Loved Cormac, NOT an alpha-hole - Wish we saw more background with Kimberly’s mom
+ Loved the setting - Kimberly freaked out and didn’t realize she was being unreasonable
+ Accurate depiction of poverty
+ Enjoyed the ride
+ Kimberly’s fight at the end was awesome
+ Want to find out more about the history
+ Will be continuing the series

One thing that often irritates me is the alpha “protective” male, that’s really domineering, controlling, and possessive. Behind it is the idea the woman is worthy of such affections, like it’s a privilege won, a goal met, an achievement earned.

Yet the woman also had to “tame” the man, to earn back her independence, as little as it maybe, from him to operate as her own person after being claimed. It’s everywhere – the woman who can make him love again and correct his behavior by being able to withstand and stand against him.

I often wonder why it’s so common and popular. It’s one of my biggest issues with NA and paranormal romance, especially with shifters. I was hesitant at first to read/review Smoke and Mirrors, but when I couldn’t forget the book I knew I had to sign up.

It does have the aforementioned trope but I didn’t hate it. I actually…liked it. WHY? HOW? Am I corrupted now?

Nah, I just understand the appeal better, I think. And no, I’m not attacking anyone for their preferences or questioning their feminist cred, I just don’t get it. I’m also an abuse survivor so I’m more cautious and willing to raise the red flag. The topic is fascinating in the history of the romance genre.

It is very important to note that Cormac isn’t an Alpha-Douche. << So much problematic and abusive behavior. It’s unconscionable. As a NA Paranormal romance, it not only doesn’t double down on the trouble, it dials it down to reasonableness I can support.

 1.) Obsessive, borderline stalker >> He does track her and follow her home at one point. But he stops and backs off. A major event in the book happens because of this. He does visit her job and makes a scene but it’s not a jealous mess. He’s just an idiot.

2.) Moody and Quick to Anger >> He does get angry when she spurns him, but he doesn’t lash out at her or the people in her life. And he’s not moody. At least not that I recognized.

3.) Jealous >> Considering she has a male best friend, he’s leagues ahead of other Alphas. And doesn’t prance around with other women. What gets him going is her picking another as a familiar and it ending up being a strong young male. However, it’s nothing romantic. Kimberly’s choice is never in question though Cormac pleads his case, it stops there. That’s the only reason he doesn’t like other shifters sniffing around and it has nothing to do with gender or relations.

4.) Controlling >> He doesn’t try to change how she looks, her job, or her life. Like the jealously passage, it’s only the bonding ceremony where he wants his way. He also tries to pay his way improving her life, but she insists on working for everything she earns like she always has and he eventually grasps the concept. It’s been awhile, okay?

Funny how someone so old-fashioned for obvious reason is far more liberal than many modern male love interests. Whaddayaknow, age isn’t a fucking excuse.

I think it has to do with the characters, I really liked them and enjoyed seeing his perspective. I don’t like how he became a tagalong at first, but seeing him control himself and realize he’d been a bonehead was wonderful.

I LOVED Kimberly. She’s determined, hardworking, caring, and formidable. Her upbringing, lifestyle, and circumstances properly influence how she sees the world and response.

Her relationship with her mother is tricky. The financial burden plays a huge role and we don’t see much of her because of it. I do wish we saw more background, but what we see is a mix of traditional single motherhood, wariness of magic, and role reversal. However, it is nice to see when she’s needed, she’s there.

The depiction of poverty is spot-on with one “What?” moment. The interesting bit is when Kimberly says they live in a rent controlled apartment. I thought that would be better…I suppose that’s naïve of me. (And yes, at this point I’d entirely forgotten it was mentioned in the blurb and only re-realized that putting the review together.)

I adore the setting. I never really thought about differences between mages and sorcerers. I love how it’s part of the foundation with shifters, discrimination and oppression. It feels so real with the shifter underground hidden from everyone, and the mage’s system.

I can’t wait to find out more about the history. I don’t like how her fatherly parentage is so typical though. While it’s a mere sentence, it makes me uneasy because of how the trope works.

However, Smoke and Mirrors hasn’t disappointed me thus far. While I knew where it would go because of the genre, Kimberly being an Extraordinarily Empowered Girl with a rare talent, and Cormac the Alpha, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Except I do think Kimberly overacted when Cormac revealed his secret. I understand her initial response and thoughts, but she really should’ve realized “oh, of course he didn’t trust me right away, hardly anyone else knows outside their community”. And I do wish Cormac stood up to her pissy antics with that reasoning. But then he had something to really apologize for so it all got lost and muddled.


It's just a feeling that leads it to be 3.5 stars instead of 4. Mainly if I had better feel for Kimberly's mother, the setting history, and Kimac saw how she messed up, it'd rate higher. I'm sure this will be better in the next book and I'm looking forward to it. I will definitely be continuing the series and checking out Haine’s other work.

For NA and paranormal romances lovers, I highly recommend Smoke and Mirrors. The only thing I'd really warn against is letting the cover stop you.

Smoke and Mirrors isn't perfect, but it's a great start that has a dragon and fills me with hope to follow along.

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 the Author:

I'm a displaced New Yorker with a penchant for the silly, the obscure, and the fantastical. These days, you can find me in the Tampa area. I'm currently working on the H&W Investigations urban fantasy series and the Blackhollow Academy young adult/new adult contemporary fantasy series. Find out more about my books, drop me a line, or join my mailing list at!

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