Review: “Firelight (Darkest London #1)” and “Ember (Darkest London #0.5)” by Kristen Callihan

Title: “Firelight (Darkest London #1)” and “Ember (Darkest London #0.5)”

Author: Kristen Callihan

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Adult, Romance, Vaginal Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Release Date: February 2012

Summary: London, 1881
Once the flames are ignited . . .

Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity . . .
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

☆: 4/5 – a great new series in the urban fantasy genre!

Review: Note: This review covers both “Firelight” and “Ember”, and you will be spoiled. Just a warning!

I will admit – I’m a sucker for characters that have to hide behind masks. When I was a kid, I adored “The Man in the Iron Mask”, and that love of masked characters has stayed with me since.  Benjamin Archer in “Firelight” is no exception – he’s an awesome character, and the book itself is a great alternate look into a universe where the paranormal/supernatural exists quietly (well, in this case, not so quietly) alongside regular humans. This book is definitely not for the YA market, and it’s kind of refreshing having adults doing…adult things? Every once in awhile. I really enjoyed “Firelight” in all of its dark, mixed fantasy (lots of different legends and cultures mixed in this one – I loved that!), so I’m really looking forward to the sequel when it comes out later this year.

This world that Callihan has created really does feel like a real world – the worldbuilding is wonderful, and quite realistic even in all of its fantasy. The characters feel full and real, rounded out and very 3D – with the one exception of the villainess, Victoria. There was the one large hiccup in the book that did kind of interrupt things a bit. Victoria’s character, as it’s revealed later, as the main antagonist should have been far more filled out, regardless if she’s human or not. We’ve seen her referenced in terms of her beauty, her cunning, and her blatant seduction of men, but we don’t really find out more about her until the end of the book where it feels like the rest about her is told and not really shown at all. The only thing that kind of redeems that is the epic sword fight for “possession” of Archer at the very end, where it’s literally good against evil, black against white, fire against ice. Callihan really ratchets up the stakes for both Miranda and Archer very well there, but at the cost of filling out Victoria’s character.

There’s also quite a bit of repetition when it comes to the physical description of Miranda herself – we get it. She’s gorgeous. She’s lovely. And everyone’s in love with her. Enough. I’m hoping in the next book we’ll have a little less of the narration about Miranda’s supernatural beauty and a little more on her actual character (though she was filled out quite nicely in the important areas – no pun intended), and little more exposition on her thoughts and motives. Also, the repeated chases after Archer (which thankfully ended around the third quarter of the book), were a little much, and really could have been cut for the most part when it’s just Miranda demanding to know more about him as the motivation. I didn’t find that as a good motive for tension, but rather as filler, and I’m not a huge fan of when authors do that.

The romance and sex scenes, though, really make up for a lot of this – there are quite a few, and while seemingly chaste at first, they get hot and fast. And Callihan writes it all pretty tastefully – she could have chosen different words, but she chose the right ones, and it all just kind of flowed. You really feel for poor Miranda and her mostly unconsummated love/marriage/romance with Archer, but things work out in the end, and that’s always a happy thing. But man, some of those scenes! Really steamy and awesome.

The ending itself? I adored it. I LOVED the epic fight scene and wish it had been a little longer, but it largely satisfied me in the sense of the exploding tension between Archer, Victoria, and Miranda. There were parts that felt a little rushed (the epilogue itself felt like a lot of telling and not enough showing once Archer is freed from the curse), and I could have stood for a little more explanation as to how Miranda was able to lift the curse instead of just everyone having a largely happy ending. A lot of the last fourth of the book did feel rushed with the explanation of Victoria, the curse, and the West Moon Club, and that was a bit unfortunate – but the scenes that actually showed the Club convening for their ritual with Victoria was really almost cinematic in quality, and I wish there’d been more of that within that last fourth of the book when the origins of the West Moon Club are uncovered.

As for “Ember”, the prequel novella released right after “Firelight” (literally, it was released the next day), we get to see more of Miranda and Archer’s backstories – including his search for a “cure” for his curse and Miranda’s discovery of her powers and how her house is brought to its knees by both her fire magic and Archer’s cunning. I think that all of this could have been included within “Firelight” – intercut as flashbacks between some of the larger arc-propelling action scenes without it having to be cut and made into a novella. I loved all of what I had in “Ember” – it all felt very polished and very solid, as opposed to my aforesaid issues with parts of “Firelight”. It should have been kept in “Firelight” and the book itself would have been a whole lot stronger than it ended up being.

Final verdict overall? With the really strong scenes and some of the weaker scenes that were more telling than showing, the strong arc-propelling scenes make up for the weaker scenes and the rest comes out as a wash. The prequel makes up for all of the weaker scenes within the first book, however, and the ending of “Firelight” is so satisfying that I did end up being very entertained by it all and generally enjoyed it. All of that said, I really, really like where “Darkest London” is going as a series and you can bet I’m really excited for the next book in the series, “Moonglow”, which should be out later next year. This one definitely needs to make its way into Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout (one of the most fun geeky book clubs for girls, you guys!) as a read of the month, and it’s generally just really fun. If you like your heroines Victorian, your world paranormal, and your sex scenes hot, definitely go for the “Darker London” series. It’s out now via Grand Central Press in mass paperback and ebook.


2 thoughts on “Review: “Firelight (Darkest London #1)” and “Ember (Darkest London #0.5)” by Kristen Callihan

  1. Pingback: usagi’s challenges for 2012! « birth of a new witch.


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