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Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Author:  Tessa Adams (aka Tracy Wolff, real name: Tracy Deebs-Elkenaney)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with elements of Horror
Ratings:  Violence-4; Sensuality-4; Humor-1 
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
          Soulbound (12/2013 )
          Flamebound (12/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 12/21/13 to include a review of Flamebound, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

             NOVEL 2:  Flamebound             
      With the perpetrator of Xandra's harrowing torture (in book 1) behind bars in a human jail, she is hoping that her life will calm down so that she and her soul-bound lover, Declan, can get to know one another better. After all, they have been together as a couple for only about a week, and she's already having second thoughts about falling for this dark and dangerous man. Xandra is also hoping that her compulsion to find dead bodies has also ceased; but that is not the case. 

     Early in the book, someone begins killing members of the Arcadian Council of Witches, and each murder forces a compulsion on Xandra, causing her to travelagainst her willto each murder scene and hang around until the body is removed. In addition to these serial killings, a little girl named Shelby has been kidnapped. Shelby is a neighbor of one of Xandra's friends (a passing love interest in book 1): Nate, a police detective who believes that Xandra is a psychic. The action part of the plot follows Xandra as she obeys her compulsions and also has visions (or dreams) about Shelby. This is something new for Xandra because ordinarily her  visions occur only after a person has died violently. But this time, she is able to converse with Shelby, who is still alive and begging Xandra to save her. The clues Shelby gives Xandra during their conversations eventually help her solve the case. 

    Late in the book, someone blows up Xandra's family's homewith all of the family members inside. At this point, Xandra doesn't know who to suspect of what. She has to solve the Council murders, Shelby's kidnapping, and the bombing. Could they all be connected? The identity of the book's villain is telegraphed early on in the action and more (very obvious) clues are dropped in several scenes throughout the story, so the final showdown scene has no surprises. This is one of the biggest weaknesses in the plotting: The actual plot is quite simplistic, with no twists and turns. The author just uses a familiar mystery trope and then drops clues (with a big clunk!) that the reader recognizes immediately, but that the heroine doesn't pick up on until the very last moment. 

     Most of the book (I would estimate at least 75%) consists of a long, drawn-out, angst-filled interior monologue in which Xandra waffles back and forth on whether she can and should maintain a long-term romantic relationship with Declan. Typically, these monologues go on for several pages and then explode into either a major pout or an argument with Declanwhich is immediately followed by graphically depicted make-up sex. This pattern is repeated at length throughout the book.  

     Most of Xandra's fears about Declan's dark side are related to the fact that he plans to take mortal revenge on the Council members who hired Kyle to torture Xandra (in book 1). Xandra is horrified that Declan wants to kill the people responsible for the deaths of four innocent women and the torture of his soul-bound mate: "I understand Declan's anger. I do. If someone tried to hurt him, kill him, I'd hunt the bastard myself. Take great joy in watching him rot in prison forever. But vengeance of the type Declan demands? Sanctioning violent, premeditated murder? Or doing it himself? That I can't understandor get behind." (p. 181) Even Xandra's friend, Lily, disagrees with her on this topic. When Xandra tells Lily what Declan plans to do, Lily says, "I knew there was a reason I liked that man." (p. 143)

     Once again, I have to say that Xandra behaves more like a 17-year-old  adolescent than a 27-year-old woman. It's a wonder that she (and the reader) don't suffer from whiplash as she changes her mind about Declan from one moment (or paragraph) to the next. For example, on one page she muses, "I know he's got my best interest at heart. No matter what he's doing, no matter how he's doing it, I know that what he really wants is to protect me." (p. 168), but several paragraphs later, she's thinking "How can I trust him when the shadows around him grow darker with each day that passes?" (p. 169) Following this mercurial flip-flop, she and Declan indulge in yet another gratuitous sex scene. This cycle of immature emotional fluctuation repeats itself over and over again to the point that I found myself just paging past all that angst. All the way through the book, Xandra worries that Declan's darkness is affecting her lightnessthat being with him will make her darker and that she cannot live with his dark side. Then, late in the story, she has a major epiphany, claiming that she realizes for the very first time that "we see things differentlymagic, the world, ourselves and each otherwill probably always see things differently." (p. 181) How in the world can she just now be realizing their differences when that is exactly what she has been whining about for the past 180 pages? Back on p. 143, Lily even points it out to her in no uncertain terms: "Declan's an eye-for-an-eye kind of guy. You didn't really expect anything different from him, did you?"

     Xandra always assumes that anything Declan thinks or does is motivated solely by his darkness, so when he explains his theory that a conspiracy connects some of the crimes they are investigating, she castigates him and accuses him of jumping to these dark conclusions without thinking things through. I have to tell you, it was a comedic moment (for me, anyhow) when Declan responded, "Don't lecture me in that prissy tone, Xandra." (p. 230) (Of course, Xandra is highly offended, but Declan is absolutely correct.)

     Another common theme in Xandra's interior monologues is her fragility. She frequently admits to herself that she feels fragile, but then she gets insulted when Declan worries aloud about her fragility. Speaking of Declan, he is constantly scooping Xandra up and carrying her around, washing (and conditioning!) her hair, and healing her many, many wounds and bruises. While she always reminds him that she is tough and independent and can take care of herself, she generally appears to be enjoying every bit of his over-protective attention.

     The story has several plot bumps, such as the fact that Xandra had no idea that the ACW headquarters has been in Austin (actually, under Austin) for over a century. She is a member of the royal family, so how could she not know this? Also, once again, Xandra has several TSTL moments when she takes off all by herself, going into dangerous situations in the middle of the night (and generally being rescued by Declan).

     This book is weaker than the first, mostly because there isn't much of a plot, and the outcome is telegraphed so loudly that the resolution is a foregone conclusion. This heroine really needs to grow up so that her emotions and her behavior reflect her chronological age. If it weren't for all of the graphic sex, I'd classify this as YA fiction.

      This is a world in which witches, wizards, and warlocks live amongst humans but conceal their identities and their powers. These supernatural beings are governed by a corrupt (as is always the case) group called the Arcadian Council of Witches, Wizards and Warlocks (ACW). Here is one council employees' description of the group: "The Council is made up of twelve indomitable personalities, all of whom are convinced they are right one hundred per cent of the time. Which can be…challenging when they're at different ends of the spectrum and I'm stuck in the middle, trying to figure out whose orders I'm supposed to follow." (p. 91) And here is the heroine's view of the ACW: "I always thought of the ACW as this untouchable group of witches and wizards who don't actually care what people think of them since they're appointed to the Council for life." (p. 92) Members of the heroine's family believe that the ACW has taken a dark turn in recent years. In fact, the heroine's father refused to take his inherited seat on the Council for that very reason. In general, the American witches don't pay too much attention to the Council, because it is headquartered in Europe and has left the Americans alone for many years. That, however, is about to change. At one point in the story, there is a hint that other types of supernatural beings exist when a Council enforcer says, "The cats and fairies are particularly troublesome." (p. 175) The first book, though, includes only witches, warlocks, and wizards.

     One oddity about these witches is that they wear magic-infused, designer cowboy boots to enhance their powers. As one of them says, "My magic is much stronger when I'm wearing a pair of Luccheses." (p. 204)

     Set in Austin, Texas, the series follows the adventures of Xandra Morgan, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter of Ipswitch's Royal family of witches. (Ipswitch is Xandra's home townnear Austin.) When Xandra was born 27 years ago, she was supposed to become one of the most powerful witches in the world, but instead her powers have remained latent, except for a few simple spells she learned as a child.

     On Zandra's nineteenth birthdaya milestone occasion that usually signals the onset of a witch's powersZandra once again failed to deliver. When she left her birthday celebration and ran off into the woods in despair, she met Declan Chumomisto, a powerful warlock to whom she felt a tremendous attraction. They spent the night in intimate conversation that included some passionate kisses, but then Zandra found a murdered woman in the woods and Declan disappeared, seemingly for good. Zandra has dreamed about Declan for years and has always felt that he betrayed her by accepting her trust and then abandoning her.

     As a powerless witch in a family of powerful witches, Xandra always felt like a failure and an outsider in Ipswitch. As soon as she was able, she turned her back on her family, went to culinary school, and opened her own coffee shop/bakeryBeanz.

             BOOK 1:  Soulbound             
     As the story opens, Xandra is enjoying her career, but not her occasional trips home to Ipswitch, where her mother constantly activates devious and dangerous plots to kick-start Xandra's witchy powers. One night, Xandra's roommate talks her into going on a blind datedinner and a magic show. The illusionist turns out to be Declan, and in the middle of the show, Xandra feels a compulsion that leads her out into downtown Austin all alone on a stormy night. The compulsion forces her to walk to a lake in a park where she finds the body of a brutally murdered woman. When Xandra touches the woman's body, she physically and emotionally relives the woman's dying moments. Her body becomes bruised and battered, and she feels the killer's knife slashes just like the dead woman felt them. After making her way home, she discovers that she has new sigils (magical tattoo-like marks) on her body that weren't there earlier in the evening.  

     The story follows Xandra as the compulsion hits her several more times (with a new body each time) and as Declan eventually reveals why she feels a strong connection between them. Unfortunately, Xandra falls into a number TSTL moments mostly because she refuses to ask for help and because she withholds information from those who could explain things to her. In several cases, she runs off on her own, which never turns out well for any urban fantasy heroine. The horrific murderswhich include rape and multiple stabbingsmake this more of a horror story than an urban fantasy tale. 

     Xandra's personality skews closer to late adolescent than to late 20s. Although she tries to talk tough, she actually comes across as fragile, needy, and barely able to hold her life together. Declan is the usual dark, moody, alpha hero who expresses a desire to keep Xandra safe, but on the other hand,  he doesn't share important information with her about the reason for her lack of powers until very late in the game.

     This novel has some strong points: an inventive mythology, a decent plot, and a nice depiction of a troubled mother-daughter relationship. What it lacks is a strong heroine who doesn't collapse into an emotional puddle and need to be rescued by a maleeither her brother or her lover.

     I'll be updating this post very soon because the second novel is due shortly.

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