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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Author:  Cynthia Eden (pseudonym for Cindy Roussos; also writes with Anne Aguirre as Ellen Connor)
Series:  PHOENIX FIRE   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) with Elements of Horror
Ratings:  Violence4-5; Sensuality5; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles:  Brava
          Burn for Me (1/2014) 
          Once Bitten, Twice Burned (4/2014)
          Playing with Fire (8/2014) (FINAL??)   

     This post was revised and updated on 10/8/14 to include a review of Playing with Fire, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.  

            NOVEL 3:  Playing with Fire                   
     Cassandra (Cassie) Armstrong is the long-suffering daughter of the series villain, the late Dr. Richard Wyatt. In addition to torturing humans and supernaturals as part of his mad experiments, Wyatt also experimented on both of his children, turning his son into a twisted monster and his daughter into a genetic specialist who feared and hated her father and now wants only to atone for the horrific sins he and her brother committed against so many innocents. Although Cassie is sure that she is human, she also knows that she was fundamentally changed by the painful injections her father forced on her when she was a child. 

     During her horrific childhood, Cassie made her first attempt to free Dante—the oldest phoenix in existence—from a cell at Genesis, her father’s “laboratory” (i.e., torture center). That attempt was foiled, but eventually she managed to help him escape (in a previous book). The problem is that after a phoenix rises from death, he or she remembers very little—sometimes nothing at all—about life prior to that rising. So, each time Dante dies and rises, he forgets who Cassie is, and she has to face down a violent and suspicious phoenix and try to get him to believe what she tells him about his life and their relationship—always a very difficult and dangerous task.

     Dante, who was portrayed as a villain in the previous novel, is so old that he doesn’t even know his exact age. He is an old-school, kill-or-be-killed kind of guy who definitely doesn’t play well with others. Even though he feels a lustful connection with Cassie, he views himself as a monster who will never be loved by anyone. Dante believes that in order to survive, he must kill any other phoenix he meets, and that is a major problem because one of Cassie’s good friends is Cain O’Connor, the phoenix hero of the first novel.

     The plot includes the usual two story lines: the development of the romance and the lovers’ continuous flight from an army of Genesis-connected military men, this time led by Wyatt’s successor, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Abrams. Several years ago, when Jon signed up to be a human volunteer for the Genesis Project, Cassie tried to warn him of the dangers and even tried to help him escape, but Jon knew what he was getting into and actually ratted out Cassie to her father. Jon is just as power-mad as Wyatt, and he has injected himself with a variety of serums, hoping to become the strongest monster in the world. After Cassie rejected his marriage proposal and escaped from Genesis, Jon was furious. He needs Cassie’s research skills and demands her affections, and he won’t be denied. You can imagine the effect this has on Dante.

     Cassie and Dante begin running in Chicago and work their circuitous way south to New Orleans, battling Jon and his men every step of the way and jumping into bed every chance they get. Although the lovers have lots of misunderstandings and arguments, that doesn't stop them from satiating their lust, so you’ll find plenty of graphic bedroom scenes scattered throughout the book. The plot makes a series of twists and turns, leaving the reader in suspense right up to the very end. Characters from previous books turn up in supporting roles, and a new villain appears on the scene—one who appears harmless at first. 

     At one point, Dante rises from one of several deaths with total recall of his entire life, including his memories of the origin of fratricide among the phoenixes. In addition, his memories provide new information about Cassie's true genetic heritage. Dante also reveals to Cassie all of the shocking details of her death and regeneration in New Orleans in the previous book, information that contradicts her own memories.

     All in all, this is another well-written addition to the series with plenty of sexy action, dramatic suspense, and fiery battles. You could probably read this as a stand-alone because Eden includes a brief review of past events in the early chapters, but I recommend that you start at the beginning to get the juicy details that make this such a good series.

     In this mythology, there are supposedly only three phoenixes in the world. This is the third novel, so I assume that it is also the final novel in the series, but perhaps not. Maybe a fourth phoenix will enter the scene in a new book. I'll keep checking and will update this post if Eden announces any more additions to the series. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Playing with Fire.  

     One member of each supernatural couple in this series is a phoenixa supposedly mythological creature who is reborn in fire each time it dies. Traditionally, a phoenix is pictured as a bird (see image at left), but in this series, each phoenix looks like a human. In this mythology, when a phoenix dies, it bursts into flames and rises again from its own ashes, taking the same human form it had before death. Each death and subsequent rising causes the phoenix to lose most (or all) of its previous memories and turns it into an insentient beast that seethes with monstrous violence.      

     Other supernaturals also live in this world: mostly vampires and various types of shifters. The supernaturals came out to the public about ten years ago, triggering a variety of responses from the human population. Here, the heroine of book 1 explains what happened: "They'd come out of their paranormal closets. And why not? Why should they have been forced to keep hiding?….Since the big revelation, things had changed for the paranormals. Some were hunted. Some turned into instant celebrities. The reaction from the humans, well, that was mixed, too. Some humans hated the supernaturals. Some feared them. Some really enjoyed f---ing them." (p. 2) 

     In each book, a soul-mated couple meets one another, faces a series of dangerous enemies, and finds their HEA. Here is a book-by-book list of the soul-mate couples:

     >  Burn for Me:  Eve Bradley and Cain O'Connor (phoenix)
     >  Once Bitten, Twice Burned: Sabine Acadia (phoenix) and Ryder Duncan (vampire)
     >  Playing with Fire: Cassandra (Cassie) Armstrong and Dante (phoenix)  

            NOVEL 1:  Burn for Me                   
     Eve Bradley is an investigative newspaper reporter who has infiltrated a secretive research organization called Genesis. She suspects that Dr. Richard Wyatt, the director of Genesis, is experimenting on unwilling supernaturals, and she plans to expose him. Unfortunately, Wyatt knows what Eve is up to and she herself becomes a subject of the Genesis experiments

     Cain O'Connor is a phoenix. He has tremendous fire-power and can use flames like weapons to incinerate people, buildings, weapons, or anything else that gets in his way. Unfortunately, several months ago, a thuggish snake shifter somehow got the drop on Cain and sold him to Dr. Wyatt. Since then, he has been chained up in a fireproof room deep within the Genesis research center and renamed Subject Thirteen. 

     As the story opens, Eve (still seemingly undetected) is part of Wyatt's team as they make their rounds. When Eve sees Subject Thirteen, she has the usual lustful soul-mate reaction (as does he). At this point, Wyatt orders one of his guards to shoot Cain pointblank in the chest, killing him instantly. Eve watches this scene in horror, but is then even more shocked when Cain bursts into flames and comes back to life as a mindless, bestial brute. Later that night, Eve sneaks out of her room to rescue Cain, and they escape, destroying Wyatt's lab on their way out.  

     The story then follows Cain and Eve as they go on the run from Wyatt and his minions, which include the U.S. government, the military, the local police, the mass media, and Wyatt's own storm troopers. From this point on, the plot is a never-ending series of repetitive scenes: Run. Hide. Make love. Get caught. Escape. Run again. Repeat—repeat—repeat. For readers who love Eden's erotic romances, this one will not disappoint you. No matter how many enemies are after them, Cain and Eve take time out for frequent bed breaks, and Eden provides graphic descriptions of each gasp and moan and thrust.  

     The plot—sociopathic "scientist" brutally experimenting on supernaturals—is quite stereotypical, although Eden does make a slight attempt to gain sympathy for one villain late in the book. Mostly though, the bad guys—both human and supernatural—are one-note nut jobs who have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Unfortunately, that makes for a simplistic plot line because we know exactly whom the villains are and how they will behave.  

     The concept of having a phoenix as a hero is inventive, and Cain's difficulty regaining sentience after each rising makes the love story somewhat interesting—kind of like a mash-up of Beauty and the Beast and Fire Starter. Cain's character is the stronger of the two. He has spent his entire long life (possibly centuries) in an unending cycle of dying and rising, all the while trying to keep his beast under as much control as possible, but not always succeeding. He views himself as a monster of Hell and believes that he can neither love nor be loved. Eve comes across as a feisty do-gooder—a cup-full optimist who sees the best in everyone. She objects to murder across the board, even trying to keep bad guys alive. This aspect of her personality gets annoying because—let's face it—some of these villains are so deeply evil that they deserve death. Just one more minor nit-pick: Is it just me, or does the Eve-Cain hook-up make you just a tiny bit squeamish, given that the same-named Biblical couple are actually mother and son?  

     The next two novels in the series will tell the love stories of a female phoenix and a male phoenix. We meet the female phoenix near the end of this book when Cain and Eve raid Wyatt's secret lab and set her free—along with a lot of other supernatural prisoners. The novel doesn't have much suspense, but if you are a fan of Eden's writing, you are probably reading it for the sexy romance scenes, not for the plot—and there should be more than enough of those to satisfy you. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Burn for Me, on the author's web site, or click HERE to go to the novel's page and read a longer excerpt by clicking on the cover art at top left on the page.  

            NOVEL 2:  Once Bitten, Twice Burned                   

     The events described in the early chapters of this novel take place within Dr. Richard Wyatt's Genesis Project facility before Cain and Eve raid the place and set all of the imprisoned supernaturals free (in book 1). Wyatt is the evil sociopath who is doing horrible experiments on captured supernaturals, supposedly to help them, but really just for his own nefarious purposes and pleasures. 

     The supernatural romance in this story is between two of Wyatt's prisoners: Ryder Duncan (the original vampire) and Sabine Acadia (a phoenix who thinks that she is human).  Wyatt's thugs kidnapped both of them after they were betrayed by friends and family members. The details of those betrayals are revealed and dealt with in the later chapters of the book. The two meet when Wyatt starves Ryder of blood and then throws Sabine into his cell. Wyatt wants to watch Ryder drain Sabine's blood so that he can observe Sabine's first death and rising. 

       Sabine is the adopted daughter of a human couple. She has absolutely no idea that she is a phoenix and doesn't even know what a phoenix is. When Ryder can't stop himself from draining her dry, Wyatt's men prevent him from giving her enough of his own blood to save her, and she goes up in flames, only to emerge with almost no memory of what happened to her. Since she did swallow a small amount of Ryder's blood, however, she does remember him. For both Ryder and Sabine, that blood exchange immediately begins to change their bodies, with each absorbing some of the other's characteristics. For example, Ryder becomes resistant to fire, and Sabine becomes much stronger. The two are immediately attracted to one another, and soon begin to act on that attraction.

     This plot is quite similar to the first novel: torture scenes, graphic sex scenes, various battle scenes, more sex, more battles, more sex, etc., etc. Like Eve and Cain, Sabine and Ryder find time for sex any time and place they caneven in a filthy alley while they're on the run from their enemies. Another similarity between the two heroines is that Sabine, like Eve, is opposed to killing her enemiesan outlook that frequently backfires on her and Ryder. Each lover has the requisite tragic back-story, and Ryder is carrying around tons of guilt over the deaths he caused when he first became a vampire. 

     When the lovers eventually escape from Genesis and Dr. Wyatt, they head for their homes in New Orleans. Sabine wants to reunite with her family, and Ryder is determined to find and punish those who betrayed him. Complicating their lives at this point are the primesmonstrous, uncontrollable vampires created by Dr. Wyatt. These mindless creatures are nearly indestructible, and their non-sentient minds are targeted on just one thing: killing and drinking blood. Another enemy is Dante, another phoenix who escaped from Genesis and is stalking Sabine (for reasons that were never clear to me). Dante's love story will be told in the third novel.   

     At times, this novel seems pieced togethermissing some transitions and a few bits of background information that would have been helpful in clearing a few plot points. This novel has the same high levels of violence and graphic sensuality as the first novel, so if you enjoyed that one, you'll probably like this one as well.

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