by Nico Rosso, historical/fantasy (2012)
Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-220109-6
Nico Rosso's Night Of Fire is the second entry in the series The Ether Chronicles, which he co-authors with his wife Zoë Archer. This one can stand alone very well, with events in the previous entry mentioned only in passing, so much so that you can blink, miss it, and still continue reading without feeling that you have made a wrong turn somewhere and now you are lost.
Set in an alternate version of our world, where everything cool is given a mechanical spin, this story moves across the ocean to good old America, where we get a steampunk version of the Wild Wild West. The world is at the war with the mean Hapsburgs, but events in the previous story led to those villains experiencing a temporary setback for the time being. So our hero, US Army Upland Ranger Tom Knox, has some room to breathe and a chance to ride his mechanical horse back to Thornville.
Three years ago, he decamped from town, leaving behind his sweetheart Rosa Campos. To his surprise, he discovers that Rosa is now the no-nonsense tough sheriff. Of course, he has also come a long way from the no-hope bad boy from the wrong side of the streets. They may have changed in many ways, but one thing's for sure: the chemistry is still there. Now all they have to do is to take down the mean mining company people wanting to forcefully evict the people of Thornville, and then they will be golden.
This one has all the right ingredients: a kick-ass heroine who can hold her own pretty well, an adorable former bad boy who has made something for himself, and plenty of action. The romance isn't bad either, as the whole reunion thing is dealt with pretty sensibly with no silly screaming or getting unnecessarily hung up over the past. With this being a short story, the minimal angst complements the fast pace very nicely.
However, I find that my enthusiasm for this story wanes with each turn of the page. While I thought the previous story in this series could have been longer, this one however feels too long for its own good. The problem here is the constant repetition of the characters' feelings and back story, with each reiteration coming off more and more like filler. The characters also have a tendency to experience lust at the weirdest of moments, such as when they are fleeing from certain death. I don't know about anyone else, but if I am hanging on for dear life, the last thing I'd be feeling is how hot the guy holding me is.
All these things come together to make this one a rather unsatisfying read. Night Of Fire has everything to be a fabulous read, but somehow, it never comes together to deliver the goods in a way I'd hoped. How disappointing, really.
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