WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS
If you're anything like me and wait months--or even years--between books in a series, sometimes you forget the little details. This section is meant to provide a brief-ish summary of each novel written by Freya Faust so that you can refresh your knowledge base and jump right into the next sequel with minimal squinting into the middle distance, wondering 'who the hell was that again?'
It also contains major spoilers.
You have been warned.
Stray Dogs: The Burke Misadventures, Book 1
Desmond and "Edward" Burke are adult siblings in their mid-twenties. Desmond is an illusionist. He is also dour, observant, clever, and very protective of his sibling. "Edward", who will henceforth be known as Morgan for reasons you probably already understand, is an elementalist with a fondness for fire. She is also upbeat, frantic, intelligent, and generally an emotional mess.
For the past 5+ years, the Burkes have been working as off-the-books cleaners for the Order of Magic's Black Operations. They commit acts of intimidation, larceny, and violence for the organization to keep the world at large from discovering the existence of magic and to keep rogue mages from abusing their powers. They have done several murders during their tenure, including a complex series of events involving a mercenary named Jasper Cole (deceased) and his accomplice Lara Trafford (alive).
The story begins.
The Burkes help secure a healer named Chester who is driven mad by paranoia and deliver him to the Order. They ask their handler, a man named Fargo, when he's going to pay them for the Jasper Cole fiasco, an incident where Fargo was playing the Burkes and Jasper against each other. Fargo makes threats veiled as reassurances and gives the Burkes their next assignment: a museum B+E. Before the Burkes can even enter the museum, they are attacked by a pair of mercenaries, do battle, and end up killing them. As they're fleeing the scene, they notice a witness. But he's not a witness, he's a third assassin. The Burkes get away before anything else happens.
The Burkes realize they've been cut loose by Fargo and confirm the bad news. While Morgan panics, Desmond formulates a plan. They decide to throw themselves at the mercy of the mages in charge of the Order, The Nine, with the intention of becoming whistle-blowers regarding the existence of Black Operations. But they need to capture Fargo first. Several former allies turn their backs on the Burkes as they duel with the third assassin, Roger Brown. Desperate, Morgan calls in Lara Trafford, who is no friend of the Order and also a shapeshifter. With her help, the Burkes trick another former ally, an aeromancer/sniper named Gail, into giving them Fargo's contact information. Using Gail's information, the Burkes set up an ambush for Fargo.
During this time: the artist formerly known as "Ed" assumes a female identity with the name of Morgan, provided by Lara's shapeshifting magic. She intends to use the identity to deceive their enemies. Lara flirts with Mo. It quickly becomes apparent that Morgan enjoys her new body far more than she ever liked her old masculine appearance. Des is skeptical of the change, but Mo insists. They both decide that now is not the time for this argument.
The Burkes check in on one of their allies only to find he's been murdered by Roger. Morgan goes mad with grief. At the ambush, the Burkes find that Fargo sent his pet assassin, Roger, in his place. A bloodthirsty Morgan fools Roger and attacks. Roger thrashes Morgan with superior strength and speed, avoiding all her lethal elemental attacks. Roger is a transmutation mage with a specialty in destroying matter and rips Morgan's left arm off at the elbow. Somehow, Morgan powers through the shock long enough to land an incapacitating blow. As both fighters fall unconscious, one dying, Desmond finds them and whisks them into his car.
Desmond heals Mo as best as he can and tortures Roger for information. Roger breaks and gives up Fargo's location, but not before Des removes a few of his fingers. Lara's magic wears off and Morgan is forced back into her old body. She hates it. Lara stays behind to guard Roger.
The Burkes easily kidnap Fargo and drive to Washington DC. They enter the Order of Magic's main headquarters, concealed within/under the USDA building, and talk their way into an audience with one of the Nine: archmage Elementalist Alejandro Gomez. Gomez is horrified to learn of Black Operations, becomes a tentative ally, and immediately convenes a council of the Nine.
During the meeting, we are introduced to the nine archmages representing the nine major schools of magic. Morena Sobral, the foremost mender of the Nine, stops Morgan's condition from worsening, but magic cannot regrow arms. Cedric Fox leads the Nine and is instantly arrogant and dismissive of the Burkes, but the Burkes bring out Fargo for questioning. Fargo feigns ignorance, but eventually breaks and reveals his role within Black Operations. Despite that, he claims his attacks on the Burkes were made in self defense. The top mind reader on the Nine, Eunice Montjoy, cannot get a good reading and Desmond thinks it's because she is protecting someone.
Using the confusion, Fargo invokes his right to a duel, and does so in such a way that forces Des to step in for his wounded sibling. This means Fargo gets to choose a champion and he picks a freshly-escaped Roger Brown. Des and Roger fight, with Des tricking everyone into thinking Roger had killed him before hitting the assassin with a knockout sneak attack. Roger and Fargo's lives are forfeit, but Mo convinces Des to spare them so that the Nine can investigate Black Ops and find out who's in charge. The Burkes are free to go, but placed under watch and investigation. As they go, the Burkes give their thanks to Gomez and Sobral and suggest an alternative to the Black Ops system.
Des and Mo talk out the gender stuff and Des warily accepts his transgender sister. They come back home to find the place trashed, but Lara is still alive. Upon request, Lara changes Mo's body back into its rightful female shape. They kiss. Des is annoyed.
A few months later, the Burkes get an invitation from Nine Fox, requesting their help in the development of an above-board magical security division. They're surprised and disgusted that it's Nine Fox leading the initiative, but tentatively accept, thereby inducting them into the Order of Magic as full members.
End of Book 1