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Tropes n' things

  • Fire magi
  • Sweet romance
  • Set in England
  • academy fantasy
  • full-length novel
  • bonus prequel novella included (part 1)


New school. New powers. A gift that could make me a hero… or a heartless villain…

It’s always been my dream to attend fire mage academy. Being part of a new school doesn’t scare me. But the fact that my powerful magic had could turn me evil… that’s terrifying. Using an awkward classmate to keep me sane could be the only chance to save my soul. 

In a perfect world, I’d have all the time in the world to hone my skills. But with mean girls around every corner and suave guys carrying dark secrets of their own, my chances for compassion are slim. And when a devious plot tries to destroy my friend, I can feel my control slipping away.  

And if I lose myself to the darkness, I might never come back.

Firecracker follows Born of Fire and is the first book in the spellbinding Arcturus Academy YA fantasy series. If you like ultimate girl power, hot-boy crushes, and intriguing magical twists and turns, then you’ll love USA Today Bestselling Author A.L. Knorr’s fiery tale.

Intro to Chapter 1

Clutching my invitation to my chest, I shuffled forward in line as the skinny student at the front bent to sign the non-disclosure agreement. The line began at the entrance to the academy’s training facility, or the fire-gym, as it was known, went over the lawn and followed the curve of the driveway.


I turned at the sound of my name and smiled as Gage sprinted past the dried-up monstrosity of a fountain in front of the academy’s main building. He looked as I remembered him, only better, if that was possible. Straight-backed, and clear-eyed, with a generous mouth and a strong jaw, Gage was plain beautiful.

Slipping into line, he shot an apologetic smile at the girl behind me. Her indignation melted into the dazed look of a teen girl from the sixties confronted with a real, live Beatle. Or how I imagined it, anyway.

“Fancy meeting you here.” Gage bumped my shoulder, his grin downright impish. “I’ve never seen so many mages in one place. It’s exciting to be with our kind, don’t you think?”

I nodded.

Gage bounced on his toes, making him look younger than his eighteen years. “I couldn’t believe it when Ryan said you’d be attending Arcturus as well. I thought you were a year behind us.”

“I am. Where is he anyway?”

At the mention of Gage’s identical, older-by-minutes twin, I craned my neck to look for him, my gut already twanging with distaste. Being an identical meant Ryan had the same beauty as Gage, but Ryan lacked Gage's transparency of emotion, the softness in the eyes. Where Gage was inquisitive looking, Ryan was wolfish.

As sweet and even-tempered as Gage was, Ryan camped out at the other end of the spectrum. He’d harassed me back in Saltford only a few weeks ago, wanting me to show him my mage-mark and insulting me when I refused. He’d acted like a cross between a yappy dog and a nosey neighbor. I’d left him in the dust when I sprinted away using my fire-power. It had been rather satisfying.

Gage jerked a thumb over his shoulder and rolled his eyes. “End of the line. We were almost late this morning because he couldn’t get his facial hair right.”

Leaning out past the row of students, I peered back. Ryan stood at the back with his hands jammed deep in his pockets and a bored look.

The only reason I noticed the kid in front of Ryan was because of how badly fitting his Arcturus Academy button-up shirt was. He wasn’t tall or broad, yet the buttons strained and the seams at the shoulders looked as though they would split if he bent over or stood up too straight. You’d think a properly fitting uniform on the weekend before school started would be an easy thing to manage. I hadn’t even picked up my uniform yet, how had this kid managed to shrink his top so badly already? I shook my head and my attention returned to Gage’s twin.

Next to Ryan stood a tough looking man with buzzed hair and a scar on his lip I could make out even from here. He was weather-worn and hard in the eyes but the generous lips reminded me of Gage.

“Is that your dad?” I’d thought the twins were more independent than that.

“Yeah.” Gage’s sullen tone said he’d thought so too. “He insisted on coming. Said he has something important to discuss with Basil.”

“The headmaster?” I gave Gage a look of surprise. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot Mr. Chaplin is your godfather. What’s so important?”

Gage shook his head and put a hand on my elbow as the line shuffled forward. “I don’t know but whatever it is, he’s keeping it from us. Ryan badgered Dad all the way here on the plane but he wouldn’t give. Must be big because Dad hasn’t been on a plane in years. He hates flying.”

I stepped forward and Gage dropped his hand. I almost missed the contact when it was gone. “Don’t he and your mom run an antique company? I thought part of their work involved flying around the world to find rare items.”

Gage shrugged. “Yeah, but she mostly goes on her own these days. After the shop burned down, they agreed dad should focus on rebuilding while mom continues to look for inventory. Enough about my family. Did you come with anyone?”

“No. My dad was here a few weeks ago to check out the school. No need for him to come back a second time.”

We were almost at the check-in table in front of the double doors.

“Cool, so you’ve been here before?” Gage looked impressed. “This is our first time. Well, not my dad’s. He was Basil’s first student.”

“No kidding.” More tidbits for Ryan to lord over me.

We stopped at a table where a twenty-something girl with an Arcturus Academy nametag on her lapel stood with a tablet in her hand. The handwritten scrawl on her tag was hard to make out.

“Nice to meet you, Krzp.” I kept my expression deadpan as I stepped up to the table.

“Kris P. Invitation, please.” Her voice and face were robotic.

“Can I call you Krispy?” I handed her my invitation, smiling.

She scanned the QR code printed on the back while giving me a fake, bright look. “Sure. If you want me to hate you.”

I cringed. This wasn’t the first time my attempt at humor backfired. My jokes were often hero or zero. Did I ever learn from the zeros? Nope.

The tablet made a little ping and she handed the card back. Turning the tablet to face me, she held out a stylus. “You read the non-disclosure agreement in its entirety before you came, yeah? As per the instructions in the email?”

Nodding, I took the stylus as she directed me where to sign. Does anyone ever read all the fine print in a legal document? Yawn.

I initialed inside the little box and she double checked it before hitting the submit button. She looked up with another plastic smile and waved me toward the doors. “Welcome to the Fire Fair, Saxony Cagney.”

“Thanks.” I stepped over the threshold and into the enclosed lobby between the front doors and the gym doors to wait for Gage. He followed shortly after, eyes lit with excitement.

“This is so cool.” He pushed the gym doors open. “After y … whoa.”

We stood just inside, admiring the view. I smiled at Gage’s expression as his gaze ping-ponged around.

“The main building makes you think the academy will be run down and moldy,” he mused, “but this is a tech-nerd’s wet dream. Look at all the … high-tech … stuff.”

Laughing, I took Gage by the hand to lead him to the observation boxes hanging over the main gym. As our skin made contact, a startling sensation of heat flared up my arm to my heart. It was as though our hands had become molten metal and fused together the moment they’d made contact, then the feeling eased away. He pulled me to a stop, hand tightening on mine. His eyes were round.

“What was that? Tell me you felt that.”

I grinned. “It was a mage-bond. You’ve never felt it before?”

He looked thoughtful. “Now that you mention it, maybe when I was really little. But I’d forgotten. What’s a mage-bond?” His surprise washed away and a sly look moved across his face. “Are we fated mates?”

I barked laughter and began to move again. People were filtering through the door behind us. “I’m not sure what it is exactly. I felt it when I shook Basil’s hand for the first time.”

“The first time … wait, we’ve never touched before?” Gage fell in step beside me, still holding my hand.

I wondered how long he’d hold it if I didn’t let go. Damn it, now we were in that awkward window, wondering which of us would let go first. I liked his touch, but people would think we were together. This was the first day the new students were all together. I didn’t want to put out the wrong idea. I relaxed my fingers a little and he took the cue and released me.

“I just touched your shoulder outside, didn’t I?” he asked as we neared the steps. Our footsteps were silent on the flame-retardant neoprene flooring.

A thirty-something mage at the bottom of the metal stairs gave us a nod as we approached. “Looks like you know where you’re going.”

“Been here before, thanks.” I smiled as we passed. Turning to Gage: “It has to be skin on skin contact.”

The mage overheard and made an exaggerated look of scandal, putting a splayed hand over his heart. “Kids don’t waste time these days.”

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