April 14, 2010

Embers by Laura Bickle

I'm fairly certain I ran across my first mention of Laura Bickle's debut urban fantasy Embers in one of Doug's alarmingly thorough and most excellent urban fantasy round-ups over at SciFiGuy. And, as always, I responded immediately to the Chris McGrath cover art. His style works for me and I liked the wavering title font, the torque around the woman's neck, and the burning city behind her. Little did I know how accurate the attention to detail on all of these elements was. Having read the book, I love the cover even more. It's one of those rare things in the publishing world--a perfect fit. Embers came at just the right time for me as well. I've been in just the teensiest bit of a funk, mostly to do with real life stress (sick husband, sick daughter, work silliness, etc) and one day I found myself at the bookstore with my boy--the two healthy ones out for some air--and we decided we would each pick out one book to take home with us. He chose a Calvin & Hobbes. I went with Embers. We both of us have been extremely pleased with our purchases.

Anya Kalinczyk's life seems to be going up in smoke. As a former fire fighter and current arson investigator for the Detroit Fire Department, she's used to skirting flames. But it's her private life that's got her treading too close to danger these days. Anya is a Lantern--a very rare type of psychic medium whose primary ability is sucking up spirits. By day she tracks down your run-of-the mill arsonists, by night she prowls the city with a ragtag group of ghost hunters, locating and neutralizing malevolent spirits lurking beneath Detroit's rough exterior. But Anya's tired of it all. Every ghost she swallows takes a toll on her emotionally and physically and, after one last rather grisly job, she informs the gang that it will be her last. She's going home to curl up with her salamander familiar Sparky and wake up to a less chaotic life. Unfortunately, her friend Brian--the resident tech geek in the group--has a hard time letting go. And the thing is Anya likes Brian. She likes him a lot. But every time she's gotten close to someone in the past, it's quite literally blown up in her face. The people she loves tend to get hurt and she has no interest in that happening to the lovable iPod listening, night vision goggle toting computer lab guru who's got a crush on her. But that's before her professional and private lives collide when a supernatural arsonists begins systematically burning up buildings across the city and Anya is the only one who can put the pieces of the puzzle together. She can't do it alone. But how many of her friends and co-workers will die before the force behind the flames is destroyed?

Embers is exactly what I was hoping it would be--just a killer debut urban fantasy. I connected with the characters immediately, but almost as importantly, I connected with the setting. My favorite urban fantasy series feature a place that is as much of a character as the supes and beasties that call it home. And I absolutely loved Bickle's burning Detroit, a city on the verge of consuming itself. A city, as Anya bleakly observes, that no sane person would want to stay in, but that she can't help but hope some will. Someone with the vision to reinvest and rebuild in the future of both the city and the isolated residents who walk its dying streets. The narrative is dotted with very real glimpses into the gritty lives of everyday people on the streets. These are thrown into relief by the side-by-side depictions we get of those other everyday people who died and are lingering for whatever reason. The effect is at once thoughtful and haunting. As for Anya, she's my kind of heroine. She fights the good fight every single day, despite her doubts and uncertainty, despite her fragmented history, despite the very real ghosts that plague her. Luckily, she has one of the best sidekicks I've run across in awhile. A salamander protector--brilliant! Sparky solidifies into the torque she wears around her neck night and day, though he loves nothing more than to slither into corporeal form to chase ghosts with Anya and play with any electrical source he can find. Their relationship is sweet and funny as Sparky is the one being she's never without. I enjoyed all the secondary characters as well, particularly the refreshingly normal (though by no means boring Brian), her good friend and organic witch/baker Katie, and the dark man behind the recent reign of fire himself. This is a dark, serious, and intense read and I was especially satisfied with the resolution. This is the first in a series and yet Ms. Bickle happily resisted the temptation to leave a million and a half plot threads hanging. There are several directions the next book could take, of course, but I finished Embers satisfied and I can't thank her enough for that. A fantastic new urban fantasy and highly recommended. I can't wait for Sparks, which is due out the end of August.


Linkage
Dark Faerie Tales Review
Parajunkee's View Review
Sarah's Urban Fantasy Blog Review

12 comments:

  1. Sounds good. Yet another UF series I've been eying. This one and another series (Amazon Ink?) looked promising to me from Juno books. I didn't know that there was a possible geek love interest though. That makes me want to read this even more.

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  2. Thanks for the review - sounds like my kind of thing. You can't always tell what's going on just from the cover, so it's always great when the illustrator gets it right.
    And Calvin and Hobbes. I had a brother that was seriously JUST LIKE Calvin. Fabulous stuff. :)

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  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to read EMBERS. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it!

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  4. Janice, definitely give this one a shot. It felt very refreshing to me. The geek love interest is very cute. And it's slow simmering. Nothing rushed. Which is nice.

    Raspberry, lol. That's funny about your brother. Will's imagination is just full to the brim with all Calvin's antics lately. :)

    Laura, thank you so much for stopping by! I loved the book so much. I'm so glad SPARKS will be out relatively soon. Do you have a certain number of books planned in the series?

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  5. I've been starting to hear good buzz about this book. Thanks for reviewing, I'll have to look out for it now.

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  6. Angie, I would love to continue the series for several books. I have plenty of ideas, and would love to develop the characters over time. In SPARKS, for instance, Anya's investigating a case of spontaneous human combustion.

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed that EMBERS and SPARKS sell well enough to give me the opportunity to continue!

    I'm glad that you noticed that I tried to tie up the plot threads and not leave a lot hanging for the next book. I'm treating these books somewhat like television episodes, self-contained stories that have a definite beginning, middle, and end. I'd like a reader who hasn't read EMBERS to be able to jump into SPARKS and not be lost.

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  7. Great review--this sounds like a book I want to read. Now you've made me spend more money :-)

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  8. Li, yes, I think word is starting to spread now. I'm excited to read more reviews!

    Laura, awesome! Poor Anya...

    And it really was so relieving not to have a huge cliff hanger.

    Suzanne, lol, I'd apologize but I think you'll really enjoy it. :)

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  9. NatalieT2:06 AM

    I thought I'd really love this, but I really didn't get emotionally involved with Anya at all. I understood some of her choices, behaviour-wise, on a rational level, but on an emotional level I thought she was a selfish, stupid cow. And, the resolution was a big fail for me.
    Disappointing, as I thought the story started quite well.

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  10. Natalie, I'm sorry it didn't work for you. Sometimes we connect with characters unexpectedly and so strongly and other times it seems like on paper they should work for us but for whatever reason they don't emotionally. I know how that is.

    For me, as I learned about Anya's past I really felt for her and completely understood why she did what she did. I would be afraid of the very same things she was and I think I just like my urban fantasy heroines tough but haunted.

    Anyway, to each her own. :)

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  11. Must read! The way you describe Anya and Sparky immediately piqued my interest, as did your description of the "dying streets of Detroit." Such fantastic turns of phrase! Plus, I'm glad to hear this novel goes beyond the typical shock & awe approach and gives the characters real depth. Thank you for the great review!

    I have an award for you! Check it out here: http://thebookishtype.blogspot.com/p/awards.html

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  12. Bookish, you're most welcome. And thank YOU for the lovely award! You're awesome.

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