Slow Burn
By VJ Chambers, contemporary (2013)
Punk Rawk Books, $3.99, ISBN N/A


Leigh Thorn, a college student, leads a secret life of sorts. You see, she's been injected with a special serum that makes her stronger and harder to kill than the average person.

It's a long story, but what happens is this: her father is a researcher working for this organization, Dewhurst-McFarland. Dewhurst-McFarland is a big mad scientist corporation involved in developing a serum that will make its test subjects supersoldiers. Leigh and her father had never been close, and Leigh used this parental angst as an excuse to snort lines, get drunk, and woo-hoo all night until she and her boyfriend got into a car while under a happy mood and... hey, where did that vehicle come from? Oops. The boyfriend died, and Leigh might have too, if her father hadn't stolen a vial of serum from his workplace and injected it into her.

Since then, her father is on the run. His employers, as you can imagine, aren't too pleased and they wanted both him and Leigh dead. Leigh is sent to a college in Cumberland while he goes elsewhere. They keep in touch only once a month, through a cell phone kept in a safety deposit box.

When the story opens, Leigh wakes up from a massive hangover, and her one-night stand switched off her alarm clock while she was dozing off the happy hour, so she is very late for her monthly phone call with her father. Worse, she is attacked when she arrives at the designated location, and it is only through the intervention of Griffin Fawkes, the assassin that broke off from Dewhurst-McFarland, that she is saved.

Griff owes her father - who is now dead, apparently - a debt that he intends to pay off by being Leigh's new hot bodyguard. The choir of angels led by Whitney Houston may have to postpone their I Will Always Love You performance, however, as this is a new adult story, so we need to have a few layers of angst to go through first.

Slow Burn is the first book in a series, and judging from the excerpt of the next book, the author intends to continue the ongoing saga of Leigh and Griff into that book. This one provides reasonable closure by the last page, however, so even if you don't want to read the next book, this one won't leave you feeling like you've been stood up by a hot guy without a word.

The whole assassin thing has me breaking my self-imposed ban on new adult stories, because I'm such a hopeless sucker for bad boys that use those same hands to kill and to love. Unfortunately, Slow Burn is an otherwise very readable story marred by the fact that it is fueled in big part by the main characters' stupidity.

Leigh knows that her life is in danger, so naturally, she does what any annoying wretch would do: sneak off alone to seedy bars because she fancies herself the new Mimi Marquez looking for a HIV-negative Roger Davis. Or when she thinks that Griff is boffing some other woman - she of course runs away because what's a few lurking assassins compared to heartbreak, eh? The thing is, other people die - painfully, horribly - when Leigh takes it into her head that it's time to go all stupid like dumb is running out of fashion, so it's hard not to cringe while reading this story. Leigh is very good at blaming herself once she realizes that she's screwed up, but, unfortunately, learning from her mistakes is not exactly one of her virtues.

It's a pity, this, as Leigh is not exactly a special snowflake stereotype. She snorts her coke and she has no problems loving and leaving the boys. Of course, these things are presented as "wrong" and Leigh will be inspired by Griff's almighty penis of redemption to clean up her act, but for a long time, Leigh isn't a boring stereotype patterned after every whiny twit that brainlessly skip around the new adult genre, and this is a nice change from the same old boring stuff. Leigh has a strong first person narrative voice, with a sharp but never toxic cynical sense of humor. It's too bad that she is still a twit at the end of the day, sigh.

Griff is no prize either. I have a laugh when he scolds Leigh for dressing in bright colors while in college - he thinks that she's attracting too much attention - when he sticking to her 24/7 is a far bigger "Look at me!" circus act that any bright-colored blouse could ever be. But it really gets good when he decides that he's some kind of freak magnet that brings misery to people around him, so, late in the story, after knowing how there are people genuinely out to get Leigh, he pushes her away for her own good. How old is this guy again?

That's the problem I have with Slow Burn: it tries to mix teenage angst and infatuation blues with genuine danger, and this combo is never a good mix. Leigh and Griff come off as fools and I have a hard time taking the danger they face seriously when they spend just as much time behaving like silly kids. Throw in the fact that Leigh's drug habit is treated more like a designer handbag of a plot device than anything else, and the whole story feels somewhat artificial. I could never immerse myself into the story because these characters never let me forget that I am reading a work of fiction.

Rating: 64


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