D.S. Craig’s debut Original English Light Novel, Reincarnated as a Familiar, wastes no time getting to the set-up. The main character, in life a young elementary school teacher, finds herself born again in another world as an Astral Cat, a creature who can see the way people use magic and also augment his own abilities. She finds herself bonded to a 13 year old magician named Lesti, who has summoned him without permission. Lesti believes she’s not particularly good at magic, which is an issue because her very kingdom relies on her mastering it. Can this cat-teacher, now affectionately referred to as Astria, help this young student learn magic while also survive bullying and favoritism at her boarding school?
The first couple of pages had me worried. The author repeats himself by phrasing the same thing in different ways, which seemed like unwanted padding. He also would phrase things in such a way that you know it was just discussed a sentence ago; it felt like if the author didn’t need padding he would have cut it. Shame, because this is a very small flaw in a rather remarkable book, but it’s one that may be discouraging for a reader looking through Amazon’s “Look Inside” preview.
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As an aside, the main character as a teacher (whose first name in that world is never revealed) has got to be the most clueless, distracted individual ever. Thankfully we don’t see any of that when she is taken to another world, but what a hot mess she is. What we see instead is a character who, given one child he must teach, finds herself in the perfect position to not only know why her student is struggling at mastering magic but also to explore the world she finds himself in and learn from it.
Lesti herself comes off as very believable. She’s overconfident and strong willed, but she also knows she needs to put in the hours in order to achieve her goals. She’s mischievous, and she cares about those around her but also feels like if she needs to lie and hide that from others. She’s easy to root for, and she has a very specific advantage that when harnessed works in her favor yet never makes her come off as overpowered.
The school is rather typical boarding school fare, and the teachers run the gamut from forgettable to “I’m sure more will be revealed about this in another volume.” One can’t help but feel like, outside of a few students and perhaps three teachers, not a lot of thought was put into the school’s staff or how it functions. It’s a setting and a backdrop less than a fleshed out piece of the world.
This particular fantasy world has a magic system that makes sense for it, with consistent rules that make sense and are cohesive. Essentially, neophyte magicians are to envision and focus on an intent, and from there it may manifest. This is, comparably, like using a graphical interface on an operating system, if the user had to focus and envision different start menus. There’s an advanced magic in which one can directly influence and control abilities by manipulating the variables of a spell, and then naming those commands as something of a magical pseudo-code, but this can be very dangerous as the wrong settings for variables could inadvertently kill a caster. It turns out that magical circles, in this world, are a middle ground between these two different casting methods and Lesti is particularly adept at them. It’s an interesting take that works really well for her. Astria, meanwhile, attempts to harness magic by calling out the commands manually and then naming those spells once perfected. This works well for her most of the time, but also has her dealing with the drastic side effects of messing up at others. It’s a great way to show just how dangerous the magical system can be, while also allowing it to be gamed in different ways.
Astria gets some mentorship from an unusual source – a dragon. There’s also a come-to-realize plot about an abandoned part of the school which was used to seal off an ancient evil, because of course. The story treads familiar ground, but the way the story’s big bad is handled is superb. As spoiler free as possible, it becomes evident slowly and heavily that the fiend Lesti and Astria take on together is adept at toying with its prey. The writing sets the reader up to think the fight will be an easy one-shot win, and then gives them hope that the fight will be readily won after a few clever strikes… before making them feel utterly hopeless, and then pulling up from that. The gravitas is real.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the OEL scene. It’s a solid young adult novel as well; if the author removed the few swear words that were in the book, I’d readily recommend this book to the pre-teen crowd as well. It’s just a really well told story that has a solid end, with enough of a cliff hanger to make readers want to come back. If this is D. S. Craig’s first novel, I can only imagine how amazing his second and third will be.
The artwork from the book, and used for this review’s header, were drawn by the artist Yura’s Arts; you can view her DeviantArt gallery here.