Thursday, May 14, 2009

Touch of Fire by Maria Zannini

When I pick up Touch of Fire and look at the cover, it gives me certain preconceptions. As I open the book, those thoughts seem to hold true with a mage watching the end of a tavern brawl. We quickly learn of an uneasy truce between those who wield the power of the elements and those who are just trying to get by. That's enough to draw me in because I love watching cultures in conflict, and seeing how attitudes and alliances shift the social landscape.

But Maria Zannini doesn't stop there. From almost the first moment, there is a tension between the two main characters, Leda and Grayhawke Tams, that has little to do with the slave collar she secured around his neck. Leda can't help but be drawn to Gray nor can she easily explain away her interest as a method to extract the information she needs from him. On Gray's part, he has reason enough to hate the fae-kind, having lost his little brother to their initiation trials and having fought against them in a recent war...that the plainfolk won...and yet his instincts offer other feelings that lead the book to its careful labeling on the publisher's site which states: Warning: Sex, sin and sauciness abound.

Then we learn the world is even more complicated when Gray fingers his little god statue from ancient times, a mouse standing on hind legs. This is only the first of the clues that we are not in a more primitive past.

Gray and Leda bicker and fight and love their way across an apocalyptic Earth in search of an ancient book full of deadly secrets. Danger appears on all sides and nothing quite turns out the way they'd expected.

This book has numerous layers that offer things to enjoy, its initial simplicity a mask for depths demanding to be explored, puzzle pieces to put together into a wonderful tale that pulled me in and kept me reading.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am one of Maria's critique partners. I was interested in reading the final product, as the version I had critiqued was obviously less polished. It has been a while since Maria asked us to crit the novel so she could meet a call for submissions deadline, so I can't say what changes she made, but I can state that the final version holds together well and showcases her talent for conflict and complications. I only stumbled on one minor plot point rather late in the book, possibly because I had read it before, for all that I don't remember, and soon was drawn back in. I don't know exactly how she's going to manage the sequel with where this one ends (yes, it's a complete and satisfying ending but with threads to explore), but I can't wait to find out. Leda and Gray have a ways to go before Maria lets them sleep.

To find out more about Touch of Fire, check out the Samhain Publishing site here:

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