I read the prologue for this book a few months ago, and hot holy damn, you guys, I was over on GoodReads adding it to my “to-read” list faster than you can say “red-haired green-eyed sword-fighting heroine.”
(Sidenote: Either there are a million novels with heroines like that, or I am somehow psychically drawn to them. Another possibility: both are true.)
But seriously, hero and heroine with secrets? Magic? Alt-history Victorian London? A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite stories? The aforementioned red-haired, green-eyed, sword-fighting, fire-wielding heroine?
Sign me up.
For her entire life, Miranda Ellis has been able to harness the power of fire. However, one mistake demolished her family’s fortune, and Miranda has been forced into a life of petty thievery to help her father make ends meet.
That is, until the insanely wealthy (and insanely terrifying) Lord Benjamin Archer shows up and asks for Miranda’s hand. When her father gives her the choice between marriage or the streets, Miranda agrees to wed. Though she’s frightened at first, Archer shows her surprising kindness, and the two begin a tentative flirtation.
However, Archer has secrets, starting with the mask that hides his disfigured face. He becomes the prime suspect in a series of gruesome murders around London. Miranda doesn’t believe him capable of it, and dives into an investigation of her own. What she finds is a secret that could destroy her and Archer both.
Now, as I mentioned, I adore Beauty and the Beast, so I really liked the idea of a hero who wears a mask. If you like yourself dark, tortured heroes, then y’all, Lord Benjamin Archer is the man for you. Here’s a man who’s lived so long under a curse he’s almost forgotten how to be a man — until a chance encounter with a lovely young woman brings a part of him to life that he long thought dead. He hides himself under physical masks, inspiring terror everywhere he goes, because to him, fear is better than the alternative.
He wants Miranda, desperately, even though he doesn’t believe for a moment he deserves the happiness. That war within him — trying to keep his secret, trying to protect her from himself even as he selfishly wants to keep her near — makes me wish that there had been more from his point of view.
Miranda, our heroine, wields her beauty in such a way that nobody bothers to look past it to see her pain. As far as she’s concerned, the fire inside her is a curse, destructive and almost uncontrollable.
She’s also not a damsel in distress, thanks not only to her ability, but also her “education” on the streets. When Archer won’t tell her what’s going on, Miranda goes out sleuthing on her own. She’s just as protective of him as he is of her, trying her best to find the answers so she can help the man she loves.
And the final fight? Oh yes, my friends. Miranda, take thy pyrokinetic awesomeness and mayst thou go forth and kick some ASS.
For Miranda, Archer is the first person outside her family who has bothered to look past the surface of her beauty, and vice versa. I adored watching as they fall in love, trying to deal with their attraction and the desire to be together while still holding their secrets close to their chests. And I absolutely LOVE the way those secrets are finally revealed.
(Although I really, really wish it had happened sooner. There’s a point where you go from understanding the angst and conflict within a person to just thinking, “Will somebody put their big boy/big girl pants on and just TALK about this already?”, and Firelight toed dangerously close to that line at times.)
And the romantic scenes between the two of them? Oh so very sexy. Particularly the first kiss in the greenhouse, when Miranda FINALLY takes some initiative with her husband.
As you may be able to tell, there were occasions when Miranda’s hesitation drove me a little crazy. She would think about how much she wanted Archer, but she didn’t want to make the first move for no other reason than she didn’t want to make the first move. I can understand that to an extent, but come on.
SWEETHEART. YOU ARE MARRIED. YOU WANT TO KISS THE MAN, KISS HIM. YOU WANT TO BANG THE MAN, SEDUCE HIM.
When she did take action, I wanted to stand up and cheer (see: the aforementioned first kiss). It just seemed to take a long time to get there.
(An excellent example of “My God I’m going to get laid come hell or high water”: Jessica Trent in Lord of Scoundrels. When her husband is about to go off and leave her for a wrestling match, despite the fact that they haven’t consummated their marriage yet, she gets pissed, puts on sexy lingerie, and storms into his bedroom. The fight, seduction, and ensuing sex scene are FANTASTIC.)
However, one of my major pet peeves with romance novels is the nearly psychic bond that comes from Twu Wuv. If you’ve read any amount of romance, you’ve probably seen this: the hero and/or heroine is able to sense the other person the moment they walk into the room; they can read pages of thought and emotion from a single eye-twitch or touch.
Okay, I’m exaggerating, but still. It was like both Miranda and Archer developed ESP the moment they got married. It was difficult to tell if said ESP was because of Twu Wuv or because of something magic-related in the world. If the latter, it was never explained, which was frustrating. If the former, it went a little overboard.
One of the trickiest things to do with books like these is to balance the romance, the mystery, and the suspense well enough that it doesn’t feel like one aspect of the story drags at the expense of the others. Callihan balances her story well, never letting the mystery or the romance fall by the wayside. This is particularly awesome, considering Firelight is her debut novel.
That being said, I think more pieces to the mystery puzzle could’ve been revealed a little sooner. As it is, one of the characters had the distinct pleasure of turning into Exposition Man (with his trusty sidekick, Backstory Boy) at the end of the story. Not only that, but said character was also checking out our heroine and thinking about how beautiful she was during that time. And he is 92.
CREEPY. I was really glad to get back into Miranda’s point of view after that.
(Spoiler: Do not remind me that the hero is the same age as the guy who is “old enough to be her grandfather, great-grandfather in some families.” Okay? Because ew.)
And yet, I’m willing to forgive a lot of problems I had for three reasons: 1) I liked the characters and wanted them to be together, 2) it’s her first novel, and 3) I loved her writing style itself. It’s definitely a little darker and more angsty-romantic than I normally prefer, but it worked wonderfully for the story.
Book two in the series, Moonglow, comes out in August, and I look forward to reading that one as well.