July 2012, Paranormal Romance
Zebra, $6.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 1420118978 Part of a series
Ah, a good paranormal. It’s not that they’re hard to find, per se, or even that they seem overshadowed by mediocrity (which you can say about all fiction and its subgenres in general. I think it’s more that the degree of fantasy (or outrageousness) inherent to paranormals makes mediocrity more apparent. But it also makes the good stand out, and Ms. Kellison’s Shadow series, if this book is any indication, is definitely good.
Fire Kissed opens with a bang, one that sucked me in right away. Fifteen-year-old Kaye Brand is the last scion of the Brand mage house, and she’s about to married off to Ferrol Grey. This is her father’s – and the mages’ – chance to rebuild their houses to a strength able to combat the humans, fae, angels, or all three combined. In a moment of desperation, her father slaps her, Kaye runs away, and just as a wraith is sucking out her soul (think Dementors), her latent fire power is released. Brand House is destroyed, and Kaye is scarred for life.
Ten years later, the various species are involved in a complex hierarchy and relationship that is budding into war. The most important organization is the Segue Institute, an organization composed of fae and angels who seem to be devoted to peace (of a sort) rather than the agendas of their own kind. Jack Bastion, an angel, has arrived in Las Vegas to offer Kaye Brand a job – to infiltrate the magekind and find out what they’re planning with the wraiths. At this point, Kaye is a self-branded mage whore, selling her fire power to the highest bidder who wants a glimpse of their potential future, but Bastion makes her an offer she can’t refuse.
This is kind of where the book left me for a while. Kaye and Bastion don’t seem to do anything except react to events, and the book is very plot heavy. It’s interesting plot, to be sure, but light on the characters nonetheless. Mostly Kaye is prickly and has a shell of cast iron after her past; Bastion is just bland. And they both have random spurts of hots for the other, but I didn’t know where it came from.
All of this changes halfway through the book. Up until now the political manoeuvrings read like an interesting snippet on the History channel – intellectually arousing but rather passionless. The only person who caught my attention was Ferrol Grey, an ambiguous villain aping Dorian Gray. But then Kaye makes a decision that turns everything on its head, and injects events, characters, relationships with urgency and heart. Yes, I have to be vague. And yes, I guaran-effing-tee that some people won’t like it. But for me, it made Kaye, Bastion, Segue, and Ferrol (who has come back with a vengeance) ten times more interesting, and I sped through the rest. (Note that the sensuality is warm, but a very hot warm.)
I’d be hard pressed to identify how, if it were even possible, Ms. Kellison could have changed the first half to my liking. Perhaps it just comes down to the old series routine – coming into Fire Kissed as a series newbie, I wasn’t completely confused, but maybe I missed something. Or maybe the book needed to be twenty pages longer. In any case, I’m not coming down too hard on it because for all the character faults at the beginning, Ms.Kellison writes a clear story with compelling world-building, and when she kicks things into high gear the story takes off. So yeah, I’ll look up her other books, and I think you should too.
-- Jean Wan
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