by Karen Harbaugh, historical/paranormal (2003)
Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58418-9
Karen Harbaugh's debut full-length historical for Dell is a classic Guilt-Ridden Vampyre story. Worse, the vampire in question is the heroine. You know what this means, readers? Yes! The heroine is the most humorless, guilt-ridden twit ever with a martyr complex as big as the coffin of the fattest vampire in Transylvania. Won't drink human blood, hates what she is, wants to die but annoyingly won't die anyway, wants to save the world, and doesn't even have the decency to be halfway smart in the process - is there even a point making Simone de la Fer a vampire? Oh yeah - she drinks blood so she gets to amp her guilt complex double the level to that of a typical Daddy-loving Regency bluestocking twit.
In the prologue, Simone bleeds dry the people that have murdered her family in the French Revolution. She ends the chapter with the usual whine, guilt, and self-loathing speech. Cut to chapter one, where Simone is now the infamous La Flamme, savior and avenger of those wronged by the scums behind the Revolution. Our hero Michael Corday is an English spy on an undercover mission to ferret out a French spy. Both of them end up working together.
Michael is as tortured as Simone. Simone is sexually experienced, but her experience is hellish rather than pleasant as she is first gang-raped and then sacrificed to the dark forces (where she becomes a vampire) and it's boo-hoo-hoo all the way from here. I won't reveal Michael's dark secrets as I will be spoiling the story if I do so, but he too is as melodramatically tortured as Simone. And the problem is, the author doesn't want me to ever forget for even a page that her characters are Tortured! Guilt-ridden! Miserably unhappy! that every single thing Simone and Michael does and says - especially Simone - eventually turns into a self-flagellation session. Simone can't even go hungry without throwing an opus lament about how much she hates herself. After a while, I get really exhausted trying to follow these two miserable characters. It is one thing if I am reading about strong but tortured people, but these two are tortured people that love to dwell endlessly on how miserable they are.
While the overall mystery and intrigue plot could have been interesting, Simone is quite dim. My favorite is the first love scene between Simone and Michael, where Simone squeals out her real name and more - details she swears she will never tell him - with every pump of his holy chalice. Simone is the stereotypical dim heroine in that she has no sense of humor and she is inconveniently and overly concerned with propriety and keeping Michael from her bed when she should care less about these things. When Michael tells everyone he's married to her, she will often protest because she's not married to him to the point that she often inadvertently works against Michael, never mind that it is better that they pretend to be married. She tells Michael that she doesn't sign her real name on the marriage certificate because it won't do to put her real name in a contract they both have no intention to honor. Honor, huh? And here I am thinking that you don't put your real name because you don't want people to know it. These heroines, I tell you. Put them in a real spy story and they will all die in the first paragraph in the prologue alone.
If the author has really toned down her characters' incessant pity parties and martyr complexes, Night Fires would have been a decent story of intrigue with a blend of paranormal thrown in. Instead, it turns out to be a typical whine-and-moan vampire story where vampirism is just another plot device to add to the characters' pity party itinerary. No humor (unless one counts the few bitter and self-depreciating moments of "humor"), no halfway decent heroine, and two people that are way too self-absorbed in trying to be the most tormented characters ever - all these factors contribute to make Night Fires more like a pyre of misery.
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