Within The Flames
by Marjorie M Liu, fantasy (2011)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202017-8


Call me slow, but I just realized, while writing this review, that abbreviating Within The Flames gives me WTF. And really, that is exactly my reaction to the cover, which features a young lady apparently trying to fan out the fires around her by swooshing her skirt, her clothes apparently made from some amazing material that simply won't burn. And that is also my reaction to the main characters in this story. There is nothing - absolutely nothing, not even the end of their world as they know it - that can stop pyrokinetic Eddie and dragon woman Lyssa from gazing at their navels and entering wangst almighty mode.

Yes, there is plenty of fire in this story. Eddie, our hero, can burn things. I don't remember what his last name is, but it does seem like, from the official website, his real name is Orlando Bloom. I never knew that asexual milquetoast can start fire and burn people's knickers with a thought. Anyway, Eddie's mission, in this story, is to locate a dragon who is on the run. Naturally, when he meets Lyssa, they have a natural connection even before they realize who the other person is. But there are a bunch of crazy evil bitch-witches on the loose, killing women like Lyssa to absorb their powers. Can these two band together and cleanse the world from evil?

The premise is actually an intriguing one, with plenty of potential. The whole fire motive in this story can be pretty sexy if done right, as any fan of solid urban fantasy can testify that there is nothing hotter than love amidst plenty of mayhem and destruction. The characters have interesting, if overloaded with angst, backgrounds. And there is certainly no shortage of chases and what not in this story.

Unfortunately, the constant angst is dialed up to ridiculous proportion, to the point that this story feels even slower than a race between two drugged paraplegic tortoises. Lyssa worries about succumbing to the inner beast in her and losing her humanity, and oh boy, she will remind me of this so often that I get tired of her pretty fast. Eddie is constantly whining about being torn between wanting vengeance (it's... complicated) and wanting to be noble. These two characters whine and moan so often that they approach Lawful Stupid territory with alarming speed.

Let's see, we have clearly insane psychotic evil bitch-witches who have killed so many people without remorse and are out to get them. Alas, these two torching those bitch-witches to crisp will truncate the story by 200 pages or so, so I get instead these two wanting to play fair and therefore, always giving the opponents the upper hand. Of course the opponents get the upper hand - they don't play fair while our main characters insist on doing so. Following these twits make me feel like watching superhero cartoons aimed at kids below the age of 10. Look, He-Man refuses to crush Skeletor when he has the upper hand, because even injuring an ant is bad... so He-Man lets Skeletor go to plague him and the other Masters of the Universe another day! It's just like that in this story, with our main characters refusing to be bad even a bit, even if doing so will rid the world of a great evil. Instead, they whine about how they will be lost and OH MY GOD because they are already so sad and they will bleat about their emo state of mind until I want to join the evil coven myself and feast on barbecued dragon meat.

Within The Flames could have been good, but it makes the mistake of trying to introduce idealistic goody-two-shoes principles in a manner that makes the main characters look like morons who would rather whine than to get their hands dirty. It's even worse when Eddie and Lyssa are clearly so amazingly overpowered that they could have solved the whole thing by torching the enemies and urinating on the sooty remains the moment they have the chance. Far from ennobling virtue, this one makes evil come off as the smarter philosophy to embrace.

Rating: 53


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