Burning Lamp
by Amanda Quick, historical/paranormal (2011, reissue)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-515-14925-8


Burning Lamp is part of the trilogy called Dreamlight. which is also part of the author's Arcane Society series. If all this sounds frightfully complicated, don't worry, this one stands alone quite well. I read the books out of order and I can follow everything just fine, and that's also taking into consideration that I don't read every book in that series.

The story arc of this trilogy is that, in 1694, the crazed engineer Nicholas Winters created the Burning Lamp, a device that collects "psychical" energy called dreamlight energy - whatever that is. The device also mutated Nicholas's genes so that every few generations, a male or two would show three powerful "psychical" abilities that can also lead to madness, "dark dreams", and "terrible visions". This is Nicholas's plan, apparently, to avenge himself on the descendants of his greatest enemy. If you are scratching your head like I did when I read the prologue, well, at least the author is sneaky enough to have Nicholas being crazy when he put that plan in motion. "He's mad!" works just as well as another other reason, I suppose, to justify this lame pretense at a "plot arc".

So, we cut to "late in the reign of Queen Victoria", when our Griffin Winters believes that he's one of those "cursed" Winters destined to become a mean stark raving lunatic. Fortunately, there's a way to reverse these changes - he'll have to find a woman who can control dreamlight energy from the Burning Lamp and undo genetic mutation. Oh, stop laughing. And yes, it must be a woman, the story is very specific on that, so gay male Winters are so screwed. So, it's one, find woman, and, two, find Burning Lamp. Fortunately, social reformer and defender of innocent harlots Adelaide Pyne has both the Burning Lamp and the ability, thus sparing me the need to write sixteen paragraphs of further synopsis in this review.

Reading a book by this author is like trying on an old dress that used to be a favorite just to see whether it still fits. Perhaps it's curiosity, nostalgia, or the fact that the book is going for cheap in the bargain basement bin at the neighborhood dime store - okay, it's the last one - but I find myself reading this book just because I have it and I can.

On the bright side, the author has certainly become more comfortable writing paranormal stuff. She still has a tendency to use jargon incessantly to create an "exotic" atmosphere without explaining what each jargon really means, but she's toned her habit down a lot here. However, she still has that sexist approach that may work fine in the 1990s but seem so laughable now, one where females have woo-woo powers that are supportive in nature or these females tend to use them only for defensive or supportive purposes. You know, heal the world, save people during desperate moments when these people are in danger of being squashed by the bad guy, that kind of thing, while the guys have powers that are depicted in a more aggressive and destructive manner. Also, I really hate that word "psychical" and it shows up very often here, ugh. The author also introduces concepts but doesn't explain much about them. For instance, Adelaide can only sleep on silk because only silk can protect him from experiencing dreams and nightmares of other people that have slept on the bed in the past. Why silk? I don't know. Why can't she just get a brand new bed? Again, I don't know.

Adelaide is said to be wise in the ways of the world, but what I get is very different from what the author is telling me. Adelaide's secret identity is the Widow, the leader of a group of vigilantes that raid brothels and rescue the prostitutes forced to work in those places, and the Widow is said to be good at what she does. Only, everyone seems to know who the Widow is and where to find her. There are many instances when I wonder whether someone has accidentally swapped the heroine of the story with a heroine from a book by Sabrina Jeffries, because Adelaide here is more emotional than sensible. She is judgmental and even shrewish even as her self-righteousness is severely undermined by her naïveté or ignorance on the matter she is going on and on about like she's the most virtuous vermin in the whole universe. This wretch is a sanctimonious nitwit. Sure, she's good at controlling dreamlight energy, but I guess she has to be or the hero will end up a crazy loon and we can't have that.

Griffin is a "crime lord", although that job description seems to mean that he runs a few gambling dens and taverns. He's a white-washed criminal - he doesn't dabble in flesh trade, and the only mention of him killing anyone is by accident. Maybe he and his street team picket their way to controlling the London underworld, going only as far as to whack their opponents with their placards when the need arose? He's a familiar hero - dark-haired, not handsome but magnetic and sexy, protective, angst-ridden, and needing the heroine's TLC to make him feel whole again. Like too many of the author's recent efforts, the romance is rushed and poorly developed. The attraction is instant and mechanical. The good thing here, though, is that the author seems to have stopped with her "first, that kiss; next, fingers in the honey pot; deflowering and discovery; don't want to marry the man because I love him and I know he don't love me" pattern to the whole thing.

As for the plot... you've read about Nicholas Winters and his brilliant plan. Let me just say it's all downhill from there. The villain stomps, snarls, screams, emits "another shrill, howling cry of despair", and generally behaves like a caricature that isn't even trying. Then again, this story isn't well written in the first place, as certain words and phrases are used repetitively to the point of grating on my nerves. For example, the female characters here tend to whisper too often out of passion, fear, or shock - these already flat characters seem like goldfish that get too dramatic too easily over everything.

So, if I want to get technical, I will say that the author changes things up a bit with Burning Lamp, but not enough to make things interesting. Making things worse are the banal narrative, convoluted plot that makes little sense, and a reliance on metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that is so vaguely explained that I, frankly, have no idea what the hell all of that is about.

Rating: 52


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