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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Deborah Cooke: DRAGONFIRE

Author:  Deborah Cooke (pseudonym for Claire Delacroix)  
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence--4, Sensuality--4, Humor--2
Publisher and Titles:  NAL Eclipse  
     Kiss of Fire (2008)
     Kiss of Fury (2008)
     Kiss of Fate (2009)
     Winter Kiss (2009)
     Whisper Kiss (2010)
     Darkfire Kiss (2011)
     "Harmonia’s Kiss" (e-book novella, 2011)
     Flashfire (2012)
     Ember's Kiss (10/2012)
     The Dragon Legion Collection (e-novellas:"Kiss of Danger," "Kiss of Darkness," "Kiss of Destiny") 
      Serpent's Kiss (Thorolf's story, 2014)
      Dragonfire (Sloane's story, 2014)

    This post was revised and updated on 11/16/12 to include a review of the eighth book in the series, Ember's Kiss. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books six and seven:

          BOOK 8:  Ember's Kiss          
     The flaming hot love story of this book comes with a double whammy as both the hero and the heroine have fiery powers. Brandon Merrick is a surfer dude who views his dragon heritage with bitter hatred. He is trying to kill off his inner beast with the help of a wise old Chinese man who is actually the villainous Chen in disguise. Lately, Brandon has been having trouble keeping his dragon under control, and he believes that Chen can help. In reality, Chen plans to steal Brandon's powers and grind up his bones into dragon dust. As the story opens, Brandon is in Oahu, Hawaii, for an international surfing competition when he meets Liz Barrett, a beautiful marine scientist who is also trying to suppress her magical powers. 

     Liz is a Firedaughter, a witch who was born to control fire. When Liz was a child, she watched her mother die during a test of her powers. Liz has always felt responsible for that tragedy because she tried to share her powers with her mother at a critical moment, and her plan backfired. At that point, Liz's powers disappeared, and she has always believed that they are gone forever. As soon as she arrives in Hawaii, however, she begins seeing auras, and gradually more of her fiery powers return. 

     When Brandon and Liz meet during a lunar eclipse, Brandon's firestorm (a passionate mating process) kicks in, sweeping the couple into a lustful love scene. Soon after the consummation, an earthquake rumbles up from the bowels of the earth, and Brandon changes into his dragon form to rescue Liz. You'd think that Liz would be terrified, but she's fairly calm about the whole thing, even when the dragon sweeps her up in his talons and flies her off to safety. Soon, Liz realizes that the dragon is actually Brandon and that she is now pregnant with his son. At first, she is enraged at Brandon's duplicity, but then she realizes that Brandon is spellbound by the wicked Chen, and that he desperately needs her help. That's when the real action begins.

     The plot follows the nefarious antics of two villains: Chen and Jorge, who is a Slayer who wants to defeat Chen and take his powers. The bad guys are after Liz as well as Brandon because they can use her as bait to capture Brandon. Eventually, help arrives in the form of some of the Pyr warriors we have met in previous books., and the conflict is resolved in the requisite climactic showdown. As usual, both the hero and the heroine are put into situations of grave danger, and they must ultimately work together as a team to defeat the villains and achieve their HEA.

     This book is typical for the series: an anguished love story, powerfully evil villains, and Pyr warriors to the rescue. If you've been following the series, you won't want to miss this one because it resolves some major points in the series story arc involving Chen and his march toward domination of the dragon world.

     For millennia, the Pyr (shape-shifting dragon warriors) have commanded the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) and guarded the earth’s treasures, including its human inhabitants. The series tracks the conflicts between the Pyr and the evil Slayer dragons, who want to eliminate both the humans and the Pyr so that they can have the earth to themselves. Each book begins with a total lunar eclipse during which the Wyvern (a female Pyr prophetess) announces the next Pyr to experience “dragonfire”—the phenomenon that indicates that a given Pyr will be linked with his life partner—a human female. When the two touch each other, sparks literally fly—thus dragonfire. The dragonfire will not dissipate until the mating is consummated and the female is pregnant, generally with a male child. Unfortunately, each time a dragonfire relationship is foretold, all dragon shifters feel it—both the Pyr and the Slayers—and the Slayers do everything they can to stop the couple from conceiving a child, because that child will grow up to be their enemy.

     DRAGONFIRE is, in general, a typical SMR series, with its alpha heroes and sassy heroines, but its series plot is more complex than most. If you love sexy dragons, you'll probably enjoy these books.  

Here is a book-by-book breakdown of the happy couples:
     >  Kiss of Fire: Quinn (aka the Smith), who repairs metals and dragon scales, strikes up a match with Sara, a New-Age bookstore owner 
     >  Kiss of Fury: Donovan, who has renounced love, unexpectedly finds it with Alexandra, an inventor
     >  Kiss of Fate:  Erik Sorenson, leader of the Pyr (on his second firestorm), finds love with Eileen, collector of legends
     >  Winter Kiss:  dangerous outcast Delaney creates sparks with fiery-tempered Ginger
     >  Whisper Kiss:  revenge-seeking, no-nonsense Niall gets down with free-spirited tattoo artist Rox 
     >  Darkfire Kiss:  idealistic Rafferty follows his dream with pragmatic investigative reporter, Melissa
     >  Flashfire:  master illusionist Lorenzo creates magic with Cassie, a celebrity photographer
     >  Ember's Kiss:  surfer dude Brandon Merrick fires up with Liz Barrett, marine scientist and Firedaughter

     Click HERE to read about Cooke's plans for three Dragon Legion novellas and for an explanation of how the rest of the series will play out

     Cooke also writes a spin-off of this series for teens, THE DRAGON DIARIES, featuring the new generation of dragons. The first three titles are Flying Blind (6/2011), Winging It (12/2011), and Blazing a Trail (6/2012). This series follows Erik and Eileen's daughter, Zoe Sorenson, as a 14-year-old dealing with her Pyr heritage.

          BOOK 6:  Darkfire Kiss         
     As the sixth book begins, Rafferty, one of the most romantic and idealistic of the Pyr, is on the verge of culminating his long-term blood feud with Magnus Montmorency, a Slayer who is one of the major villains of the series. As the story progresses, we learn more about the history of their relationship, including all of Magnus's lies. Just as Rafferty is ready to invade Magnus's home, a young woman walks up the steps and sneaks inside. Melissa Smith is a former investigative reporter who has vowed to avenge Magnus's murder of her friend, Daphne, by stealing his business records and exposing him publicly as an illegal arms dealer. Melissa doesn't know that Magnus is a Dragon, and she discovers it the hard way. Soon, Rafferty finds himself rescuing Melissa from Magnus's clutches, and he also finds himself in the midst of his own firestorm with Melissa. This firestorm, however, is different from the usual firestorms that we have seen in past books. This is darkfire, which has emanated from a magical crystal and can only be dispersed by solving an ancient and obscure riddle. The effects of darkfire on the Pyr are devastating. One by one, they begin to behave uncharacteristically. For example, at one point Eric becomes so depressed that he seems to have resigned himself to death. Rafferty, who has always been "Mr. Perfect," begins to lose control, and between his lack of restraint and Melissa's bull-headedness, the Pyr are outed to the general public. Wow! Never saw that coming! By the end of the book, Rafferty and Melissa have triumphed (as we knew they would), the firestorm and the dark fire have died down, and the Pyr have gone through several major changes, including the possibility of a new Wyvern.

     I read the previous book, Whisper Kiss, almost a year ago, and I must confess that I had a hard time remembering who was who in this book. Although most of the story is spent with the main characters, there were also shifts to the minor characters (e.g., Chen, a big-time evil Slayer, who lets the darkfire loose, and Viv Jason, a female shape-shifter who allies herself with Chen against the Pyr). We also have brief side stories for Erik, Brandt, Sloane, and Donovan. Finally, we have the Sleeper. We've heard about him in past books, but now he wakes up, and we learn his back story. I had no trouble following the main plot, but when it came to the side stories and the references to the thematic arc for the series, I confess that I did some skipping—just to get back to the real action. My recommendation is to start reading this series from book 1, but definitely don't make this the first book you read. If you haven't read any of the previous books, you won't have a clue as to what's going on.

     One thing that has always been problematic about this series is the speed at which each Pyr and his mate get together. As one reviewer put it, these couples zoom right past first and second base and actually begin at third. Rafferty and Melissa, for example, were in bed within hours of meeting one another. Although I admit that this isn't supposed to be realistic fiction (dragons...duh!), I still think that it's a bit of a stretch to believe that a 30-something 21st-century career woman would fall into bed with a guy within hours of meeting himespecially right after she sees him turn into a dragon. 

          BOOK 7:  Flashfire             
     The seventh book is set in the glitz and neon glow of Las Vegas, where Lorenzo di Fiore lives in isolated luxury paid for by his wildly successful stage show that showcases his mastery of fiery illusions. Lorenzo has distanced himself from his dragon heritage, viewing his fellow dragons as barbarians who allow their primitive sides to dominant their lives. Disdaining both the Pyr and the Slayers, Lorenzo values civility and culture above all, and refuses to get down and dirty with either side. He has taken in his father, Salvatore, after years of estrangement, because the old dragon is in rapidly declining health. As the story opens, Cassie Redmond, a paparazzi photographer, and her friend, Stacey, are headed out to see Lorenzo's show. Stacey is rebounding from a failed romance, and Cassie is taking a vacation to rethink her career choices. As in most of the DRAGONFIRE books, this is the night of a lunar eclipse, so a Firestorm is imminent.  As Lorenzo's extravaganza unfolds, sparks begin to fly from Lorenzo to Cassie, proving to Lorenzo that the Firestorm is his. He decides to sate it immediately and then walk away. He doesn't believe in most of the Pyr mythology, viewing it as mostly fiction, so he doesn't worry that Cassie will become pregnant. Unfortunately, he's wrong about that. 

     In the meantime, other dragons, both good and evil, feel the Firestorm and head for Las Vegas. There are two primary villains: Balthazar, the leader of the Slayers, and Chen, who has delusions of grandeur, lots of ancient power, and elaborate plans for taking control of all the dragonsSlayers and Pyr. On the good side, Erik shows up to, once more, ask Lorenzo to join the Pyr. As the plot plays out, Lorenzo is planning a spectacular illusion in which he has himself buried in his Ferrari for 30 days. This is his ploy to disappear and go somewhere else to begin a new identity, which all dragons must do periodically since they never show signs of age. Now, all of Lorenzo's plans are in jeopardy, with an unexpected (pregnant) mate and two adversaries who are determined to carry out their own devious and deadly plans. As the climax approaches, Lorenzo must decide whether he should continue his solitary life or make room for love.

     This is a well-told, action-filled story, with two strong lead characters. Lorenzo has just the right amount of angst over his tragic family history and his determination to face life on his own terms. Cassie is feisty without being whiny or stupidly stubborn, although sometimes she is just a tiny bit too accepting of Lorenzo's eccentricities. For me, she is one of the better heroines in this series.

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