NOVEL 3: Drowning in Fire
Keko is desperate to redeem herself and take back her warrior status because she has always dreamed of being the leader of the Chimerans. One night, she goes to Chief's home and watches through a window as he tries, but fails, to use his fire power to light a candle. Keko confronts Chief, and he admits that he and many other Chimerans have lost their ability to call forth their fire. Keko immediately sees this as an opportunity to regain her position in the Chimeran hierarchy, so she vows to search for the Source—the sacred, hidden location of the elemental fire that gives the Chimerans their blazing power. Here, the Chief explains: "The Queen brought our people across the ocean from Polynesia in search of one thing: the Fire Source. The food our powers need to breathe and exist in this world. It is pure, raw fire magic. She felt it call to her from the other side of the water, and bade her people to follow her to find it," (p. 65) When the Chimerans arrived in Hawaii 1,500 years ago, the Queen went in search of the Source, but she never returned from her quest. Knowing that this journey may end in her own death, Keko calls Griffin to tell him good-bye.
When Griffin receives Keko's call, he is on his way to ask once again for a position alongside the other elemental groups represented on the Senatus. When he tells Chief and Bane about Keko's phone call, they agree that he can try to find her. But Aya, the representative for the Children of Earth (Earth elementals), warns that if Keko touches the Source, she will set off a cataclysm. Aya warns, "If the Source is disturbed in any way, it will alter life. It will create death. If Kekona touches it, fire feeding fire, she could destroy continents or create new ones…The children of Earth guard the Source…I'm telling you now, if you do not find Kekona and stop her, my people will hunt and kill her, just as they did the last woman to lay claim to what was not hers." (p. 69) The Senatus decides that Griffin must go after Keko, stop her, and then bring her back to the Senatus for punishment. If Griffin doesn't reach her in time, Aya's Earth Children will kill her.
At this point, the plot branches into three story lines: the Griffin-Keko romance, the search for the Source, and Aya's interior monologues concerning her wish to become human. Griffin and Keko's love affair is completely intertwined with their search for the Source, while Aya's scenes are scattered throughout the book.
I would have enjoyed this book more if Keko had been a more likable character. Her life has been, and continues to be, one long series of TSTL moments. As portrayed, she is a rage-filled, thoughtless, egocentric young woman who seems to believe that the world revolves around her. At one point, deep in self-pity, she realizes that "she hadn't actually apologized for the whole war thing." (p. 77) That "war thing" nearly caused a major war between the Chimerans and the Ofarians in which many innocents would have been killed—and all because Keko's hurt feelings drove her to ignore all logic, lie to her people, and never reconsider her impetuous and irrational actions. No matter how close Keko and Griffin become, she always suspects that he is deceiving her; she never trusts him. Granted, Griffin does tell her a few lies, but she also lies to Griffin—or at least keeps some very important secrets. All this makes Keko completely predictable. You always know that she will come up with some bizarre and illogical conspiracy theory in order to justify her unbalanced behavior.
And then there is Griffin: the buttoned-down, reasonable man who always lets Keko get away with her nutty behavior, always composed and understanding, no matter what she does or says…or screams. He's like a supernatural, paternalistic, Mr. Rogers dealing with an unruly, out-of-control child-woman. The height of Keko's insane behavior occurs when she learns that the premier of the Senatus has been murdered back on the mainland while she and Griffin are in the midst of their search for the Source. Even though Griffin has been traveling with her for days, focusing all his efforts on trying to help her, her unbalanced mind begins to work overtime: "His game came entirely clear. The whole thing unfolded before her, taking on the color of fury….'What if you orchestrated the premier's death?'….How goddamn convenient for you, this timing. You'll show up at the next gathering…and they'll have to be stupid not to vote you premier. Ta-da. You get everything you've ever wanted." (p. 221) I couldn't believe that I was reading this ridiculous, baseless rant. And I definitely couldn't believe Griffin's reaction: "You have to calm down." In response, Keko slams him with with a major jolt of her fire power, knocking him unconscious and burning down the B&B in which they are staying. This scene is a perfect illustration of the preposterous behavior of this supposed heroine. What Keko needs is a prescription for a heavy-duty tranquilizer and a series of sessions with a competent psychiatrist.
This novel moves the series story arc along as the Ofarians become closer to getting a seat on the Senatus, and some of the elementals begin realizing that the elementals need to get to know one another better before they can discuss getting closer to the Primaries (humans). Click HERE to read the first two chapters of Drowning in Fire. I'm guessing that the next novel will tell the love story of Aya, the Earth elemental, and Jason, the Air elemental after whom she has been lusting.
Each Ofarian has the ability to melt into water. Here, the heroine of book 1 makes an escape from a pursuer: "She whispered Ofarian words. Her body shimmered, liquifying, and collapsed in on itself. It took extra effort and deep concentration to transform her clothes and belongings, too, but she did it. As a puddle, she pooled around the stumpy legs of a Dumpster. Raindrops splashed into her but did not mix. The puddle served as one great big limpid eye, and from it she watched Reed charge into the alley." (p. 51) If an Ofarian uses a drug called Nelicoda, his or her ability to change into water is blocked. Water magic can even be permanently removed if enough Nelicoda is forced upon an Ofarian—either in pills or injections.
The Ofarians are a closed society with little interaction with humans. They call humans Primaries and themselves Secondaries because the humans were here first and because they outnumber the Ofarians. The Board makes most of the important decisions for all Ofarians, including the handling of finances and the arranging of marriages. Ofarians who dare to become romantically involved with humans are stripped of their water magic and banished forever from the Ofarian community.
The series follows the Ofarians as they learn of the existence of other groups of elementals and try to convince them to interact with the Primary world.
Later that evening, the escaped Japanese thug captures Gwen, but a tough, handsome mercenary named Reed Scott rescues her. We are not surprised when Gwen and Reed are immediately attracted to one another, but Gwen knows better than to get involved with a Primary, so she reluctantly sends him on his way. Reed's nickname is "the Retriever." He is a stone-cold mercenary who has mixed feelings and a certain degree of denial about his chosen profession. Here, he converses with Gwen:
"How did you get into kidnapping, Reed?"
He blinked..."I call it extraction. Or retrieving....I got really good at setting up extraction jobs—researching them, planning them, going in, and bringing someone out. I got good and I also got...addicted....It's a rush, all that knowledge. All that power. All that...adrenaline. And it lasts for days, weeks. A massive surge."
"Sooner or later you'll crash."
"He barked out a laugh. "I crash every time. Every single job. It ends and I sit in my place and wallow in what I've done....Then another job comes...." (pp. 160-161)
Now here's where the story gets complicated. After a second chance meeting with Reed in a bar, Gwen goes home to her apartment and is kidnapped—by Reed. Turns out that she is his next assignment, although to be fair, he didn't know that the first two times they ran into each other. She, of course, doesn't believe that for a minute.
The romance plot is just as rocky as you would imagine, with the kidnapper and his victim falling for one another and with one being an alien Water elemental and the other a human. To add to the romantic conflict, Gwen has a husband-to-be (Griffin) who was selected for her by the Board. Gwen and Griffin are long-time friends, but for Gwen, the romance just isn't there, so she's ambivalent about their upcoming marriage. The action plot focuses on the reason Gwen was kidnapped, which I won't go into here because anything I say will be a spoiler. Let's just say that it involves the Ofarians' bitter enemies, the Tedrans, and that a series of eye-opening events forces Gwen to reassess most of her beliefs about the Company, her father, and the history of the Ofarians and the Tedrans.
With its fresh and inventive mythology and compelling story line, this is a well-constructed novel, with smart, tough, sympathetic protagonists who (thankfully) don't stumble into any TSTL moments. One strong point is that most of the bad guys are not one-dimensional, power-mad villains. Granted, they do make wrong decisions, but, in general, they believe that they are doing what they have to do for the greater good, so they engender some sympathy from the reader. The story line eventually gets a bit woo-woo, and the plot has a few small-to-medium-sized holes, but all in all Martine tells a fast-paced story with an action-filled ending that ties up this book's conflict, but leaves the future open to more stories set in this world. Click HERE to read the first two chapters. Click HERE to go to an RT Book Reviews page on which the author presents a compilation of Gwen's inter-office memos.
The second book will take place five years after this one ends and will tell the love story of Xavier, who starts out as one of the villains in book 1.
NOVELLA (in Unbound anthology): "No Surprise More Magical"
This novella completes the love story of David Capshaw and Kelsey Evans. Click HERE to read my review of that story as well as the other three novellas in the Unbound anthology.
NOVEL 2: A Taste of Ice
It's film festival time in White Clover Creek, and Cat and her partner/manager, Michael Ebrecht, have arrived to set up a showing of her paintings in a local gallery, hoping to sell her artwork to the wealthy Hollywood types who will attend the festival. When Xavier and Cat meet amongst the tourists on a crowded street, they have one of those paranormal romance moments—an electric connection that guarantees that they are destined to be soul mates. Cat paints waterscapes—ponds, oceans, and rivers—because she has a natural affinity for water. This is an early clue about her genetic heritage, but no one realizes this until much later in the story. The primary story line follows the couple as they slowly and painfully stumble down their bumpy romantic road: Xavier trying to beat back his hallucination of the Burned Man and Cat trying to understand why he has so much trouble connecting with her.
A second story thread involves Michael, who turns out not to be as human as we first thought. Michael is an arrogant Hollywood magnate with an ego the size of Pike's Peak. He and his partner, Lea, "collect" magical people, which means that they either blackmail them into cooperation or lock them up in cages. In Michael's case, the collecting has to do with his daddy issues. Lea's motives, though, are not so transparent.
The bulk of the story is devoted to the romance between Michael and Cat, with the "collecting" story thread merging with the romance and erupting in the last quarter of the book. The plot structure is intricately designed. Each time the reader is sure that the couple is on a safe and romantic track, their situation gets exponentially worse. And then, when you begin to believe that their troubles can't possibly get any worse, they do. The final low point is telegraphed almost from the point that it is introduced, but that doesn't stop the suspense from building to the point of breath-holding. This couple's story is one of the most anguished that I've read in a long time, and the beauty of it is that we are not inundated with endless, repetitive, angst-filled paragraphs by the two lovers. Yes, they both reflect on their troubles, but their relationship progresses in such a way that their anguished feelings are always infused with some degree of hope.
This continues to be a strong paranormal romance series, one of the few that is based on a fresh and inventive mythology involving smart, well-developed characters and complex, well-planned plots. Beginning with this book, each romance plot will be connected to the overall series story arc that centers on the Ofarians' efforts to join the Senatus, the governing body for all of the various elemental races. In A Taste of Ice, Xavier learns from Gwen Carroway that "There are whole societies of other races who originated in the stars, who immigrated here over time. Huge enclaves all over the world. Thousands of each kind. And they all knew about each other. They'd already banded together and they knew about us but they never came forward." (p. 154) Since the Ofarians have always been so arrogant about their own superiority and so contemptuous of other races, it's no wonder that the other races haven't wanted anything to do with them. Now, though, the Ofarians, under their new government, want peace with the other elementals.
Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read "A Man's Smile," a free, on-line short, short story about Xavier that takes place just before the opening events of A Taste of Ice, two months before Cat opens her art show. The next novel will tell the romantic story of Griffin, new head of the Ofarians, and Kekona Kalani, a Fire elemental (aka Chimeran).