by Kathleen Nance, paranormal (2007)
LoveSpell, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52703-5
Kathleen Nance's Phoenix Unrisen is marketed as a romantic suspense, but there are magic-wielding Mages running all over the place in this story. Those expecting serial killers and secret agents in this story have best adjust their expectations because there is actually a half-human, half-phoenix guy in this story.
Ms Nance has set this story in New Orleans, which you may recall was devastated by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Perhaps because she is afraid that genteel readers will be traumatized by any story set in New Orleans, Ms Nance makes an extra effort to eulogize the city to point that my head begin to throb unpleasantly after what seems like the millionth time the word "Katrina" shows up in the first half of this story. Everyone talks about Hurricane Katrina. Characters will stop in the middle of what they are doing to eulogize the city. Oh, trees never grow again after Katrina! Oh, the people of New Orleans are such brave, brave, brave people for, you know, surviving Katrina. And what's better to provide instant heroism to the hero by mentioning constantly that he was a prominent fellow who helped the folks in New Orleans after Katrina struck, right?
It gets to a point where the constant mention of the disaster becomes patronizing and even exploitative, as if the author is deliberately using a genuine tragedy to milk the reader's sympathy for her characters. Maybe I'm just cynical, but there are only so many "Oh, the city is never the same again after Katrina and oh, aren't we all heroes for surviving the disaster?" sentiments I can take before I want to scream unkindly that maybe it's time the folks in this story shut up and move the hell on. Ms Nance has really gone overboard with the whole Hurricane Katrina eulogy here - way too much overboard for me.
Oh yes, the story. Ram Montgomery is a Mage who has lost his powers... or so it seems, until he somehow manages to get them back during a confrontation with some late-night smugglers who are smuggling animals of protected species out of New Orleans. Our heroine Natalie Severin happens to be there as well, and Ram realizes that somehow she is the conduit that allows him to use his magic. Meanwhile, Natalie is no stranger to magic as her late husband and her missing brother both dabbled in magic. She even reports weird and spooky news for the New Orleans News Eyes, so the sight of a man doing kung-fu in lightning speed doesn't make her blink too hard. It does send blood rushing to a few places in her body, though, as Ram is hot. The two are soon involved in a mystery that involves animal trade as well as Natalie's missing brother. Dark magic is involved, that is for sure.
The romance in this story is pretty dull. The characters lust after each other, they have sex eventually, but their attention is focused so much on the mystery that I never get any impression at the end that these two characters genuinely want to be with each other for the long term. They seem to be more like lovers for the moment rather than a committed couple in the making.
The rest of the story doesn't make up for the tepid and uninteresting romance. A big problem here is that the author provides very little detail as to how the rules of her setting work. The concept of magic is vaguely described, therefore when all those animal magic signs (the phoenix, et cetera) show up late in the story, I have no idea what the author is talking about. I feel that Ms Nance has made a big mistake in making Ram an aloof character that doesn't tell Natalie anything - if Ram respects and trusts Natalie enough to tell her things instead of treating her like a convenient magic/sex toy, the reader will get some educational exposition about how the setting works. Instead, Ms Nance has Natalie - and the reader - running in the dark, so to speak, throughout the entire story.
The mystery is pretty dull as well. The characters don't really do anything interesting for most of the story aside from talking and running around in the dark. I also love how Natalie, after encountering bad guys who know her and where she lives, proceeds to go back to her place instead of, oh, I don't know, running to stay at somewhere safer. The villain is from the Scooby-Doo school of nefarious behavior, as evidenced by that scene where he tries to kill our main characters by... releasing exotic killer bees on them. Dude, that move may be dramatic, but I personally believe a couple of bullets shot into the right places will do the trick much better and more efficiently. The villain is flamboyant and sneers well, but as an efficient and adept bad guy, he's right up there with the countless villains that have been put behind bars by the Mystery, Inc gang.
A dull romance, a boring asshole of a hero, a lackluster urban fantasy style plot, very vague world-building, and ridiculous theatrics from an equally ridiculous villain all make Phoenix Unrisen a very dull read. Ms Nance seems to have an interesting concept and plenty of ideas for this story, but somehow the execution never really delivers the fun.
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