Day Of Fire
by Kathleen Nance, futuristic (2004)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52591-7

This is great. Now this is what I am looking for when it comes to a kickass futuristic story. Day Of Fire is a story that is romantic while simultaneously coming off as an authentic futuristic. In short, this isn't another medieval romance only with laser guns. Then again, the 2176 series is meant to take the futuristic romance a little further than the usual space cabin romance, and Day Of Fire is a splendid entry into the series.

While this book stands alone, Susan Grant explained the situation of the world in this series in her book The Legend Of Banzai Maguire. In that book, Canada is mentioned as an isolated country struck by a plague. In this book, the plague situation is over but the fallout still lingers, chiefly the animosity between the mounties of Tri-Canada and the plague-hunters of Health Canada due to long-standing bureaucratic differences. Meanwhile, there are undercurrents of dissension everywhere.

Our heroine Day Daniels is a mountie, oops, Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman. Her partner is killed when they try to investigate and stop what seems like a gathering of aspiring Che Guevarras. Day wants to capture those bastards that did her partner in, but she learns that things are more sinister than she expected at first when investigations reveal that her partner is carrying a strain of smallpox virus that can cause another plague outbreak. Day isn't so pleased with her new partner, the plague hunter Lian Firebird, but they have to work together for the greater good of O Canada. They are also attracted to each other, an attraction they prove repeatedly to the reader via creative ways to keep warm when one is stuck in terrible snowstorms. Really, people, do not try this on ski-slopes unless one is trained in frostbite treatments.

The depiction of a country ravaged by plague outbreaks is well-done and realistic in Day Of Fire, which gives its otherwise megalomaniacal-villain plot a semblance of authenticity and even relevance to the way things are today, what with SARS and Anthrax and what-not going around. (Yes, yes, you people who are right now whining about how you don't want any reality stuff in your book can now go away - the exit is on your right.) I still don't know what makes Banzai Maguire so important unless we're talking about a walking relic to delight historians, but everything else about this version of 2176 feels credible, well-planned, and most importantly, intriguing enough and real enough. That's good in my opinion.

Day is a survivor of the plague and is loyal to the mounties as a mountie took her in after she survived the plague as a young girl. Lian is appropriately mysterious, although there is very little suspense as to which side of the team he's on. These two characters work well together, with Day never having to apologize or compensate for her toughness and Lian doing his alpha-lite hero antics to complement her. I love a man who can kill and heal with equal efficiency. The contradiction is too delicious for words.

Day Of Fire is an enjoyable read because it is a well-paced romantic adventure that is made more enjoyable because Day is allowed to be strong without having to compromise anything else about her character. I confess that most of the Canadian injokes fly past my head and there are a few cringe-inducing cheesy lines to break the relentless gravity of the story - including a line that I'm sure only territorial doggies can appreciate - but I still have a blast reading this book.

The relentless gravity can get a little too much at times though. Let's just say that I can't imagine Kathleen Nance writing a serious story until now. There are a few light-hearted repartee, but they are few. A little more levity would have been welcome. Also, the book dips into some arty-farty new age moments later on. Such arty-fartsy moments aren't too bad as every Japanese science-fiction anime nowadays tend to incorporate some love, peace, and harmony messages dipped in crystal hues and bastardized techno versions of Mike Oldfield tunes and those anime flicks are supposed to be cool. Still, Day Of Fire could have risen above such overused gimmick, surely? It is amusing to note though: usually it's the heroine who gets to be some spokesperson for some new age earth mother slogans, but in this book, it's the hero who gets the honor.

And it's just me, probably, but the hero's name is just no. Where I come from, lian is an uncomplimentary term used to describe a vulgar, tacky middle-class Chinese woman. It is hard to get into a story where the hero is named Lian. Still, the fact that I enjoy this story says something about how entertaining it is.

Day Of Fire seems like a simple, straightforward story with tough heroines, enigmatic heroes, and a well-crafted storyline. But when the romance genre still tends to force "tough" heroines to either overcompensate by being emotional basketcases or inept dingbats needing to be rescued by the hero, Kathleen Nance's story is one of the few stories out there where the heroine can be her tough old self without being sabotaged into infuriating ineptness by the author. But that's just one of the many pluses in this fun story that kicks where it hurts and takes no prisoners.

Rating: 90

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