Burning Up (Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra, Meljean Brook)

30 Dec

Burning UpAs much as I talk about Meljean Brook’s amazing Iron Seas series, it came as a surprise that I had never reviewed the story that forever hooked me on it. I hereby hasten to correct that egregious oversight.

It will be brief, but it will be done!

Burning Up by Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra and Meljean Brook

Not too long ago, in one of the Smart Bitches podcasts, there was a conversation on how effective are novellas as a way to introduce new series to readers.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say that they don’t work for me, but the truth is that they don’t when:

  1. the world building doesn’t hold up in the novella,
  2. events that are essential to the longer stories happen in the novellas (I like the shorts as extras, not compulsory reading, myself), and
  3. when the novella is actually the first few chapters of a novel (yes, this has happened–ask Nora Roberts about Laurell K Hamilton and the Out Of This World anthology)

Three out of the four stories in Burning Up are part, or the starting point, of series of different lengths and success. I will review them as they appear in my print copy. Please do be aware the there’s explicit sex, and in some quite a bit of it, in all four stories.

Here’s the dreaded back cover blurb :

Passion runs as hot as a fever dream in these all-new stories by four New York Times bestselling provocateurs of the paranormal…

In Angela Knight’s Blood and Roses, a vampire warrior and his seductive captor join forces to stop a traitor from unleashing an army of demonic predators on their kingdom.

New in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series is Whisper of Sin, in which a woman in lethal danger finds an unlikely protector–and lover–in a volatile member of the DarkRiver pack.

Virginia Kantra continues the haunting tales of the Children of the Sea in Shifting Sea, the story of a wounded soldier rescued by a strange and enigmatic young woman.

Meljean Brook launches a bold new steampunk series with Here There Be Monsters, as a desperate woman strikes a provocative–and terrifying–bargain to gain overseas passage.

“Whisper of Sin” by Nalini Singh

As mentioned in the blurb, this is part of Ms Singh’s extremely successful Psy/Changeling series. Only the second story in the chronology of the world, it was actually the tenth or so story published in the series, and it centers on two minor characters that are mentioned in passing in two or three of the novels.

Ms Singh often uses different devices to introduce her Psy/Changeling stories. In this case, the novella is bookended by short City Beat pieces from the fictional The San Francisco Gazette, which set the stage and introduce the three ‘races’ of humans in the world–human, Psy and Changeling–as well as giving the reader a basic primer on the political situation at the time the story is set.

Ria Wembley, a young human living with her family in San Francisco’s Chinatown, is attacked by a gang aiming to take over organized crime in the city. Emmet is one of the DarkRiver pack’s senior soldiers, who happens to be in charge of Chinatown during the very real campaign the Changelings are wagging to publicly wrest San Francisco from the Psy.

Hijinks, most obviously, ensue.

I do like the main characters’ romance, and enjoyed the secondary characters, particularly the dynamics in Ria’s family. I also think that the world building is comprehensive enough for new readers yet not terribly repetitive for fans.

However, I found the suspense plot line quite thin, which makes me glad this was not my introduction to the series.

“Whisper of Sin” gets a 6.50 out of 10


“Blood and Roses” by Angela Knight

From what I can gather reading Ms Knight’s website, this is a stand alone paranormal story, with an interesting and pretty novel premise.

In a somewhat medieval setting, where some humans are gifted with great magical powers, vampires were created to protect the realm from the human-eating demons threatening invasion from beyond the borders.

In order to ensure control of the vampires, who far stronger and possess more magic than most humans, a special caste of women is created. These women, the Blood Roses, are also gifted magically, but it’s both their blood–which greatly enhances a vampires innate magic and strength–and their lineage that makes them particularly desirable.

To further protect the kingdom and its inhabitants from the demons, a magical barrier has been erected, and a trusted knight given control of its impregnable fortress. For generations, all is well, until–of course–the current vassal allows himself to be corrupted by evil magics.

Enter our faithful knight–a vampire, of course–sent by the king to investigate the true state of affairs in this distant and most critical part of the kingdom. And enter our heroine–who just happens to be a Blood Rose, commands a decent amount of magic herself, and is being blackmailed to help the evil wizard. The price of her compliance? The life and, even more importantly, the soul of her three year old half sister.

As with the other stories by Ms Knight that I’ve read, I enjoyed following the adventures of these two characters. I liked that the reader actually sees them use their brains. For example, Amaris doesn’t trust Raniero simply because he’s the king’s man er…vampire. After all, both her overlord and her own father (another vampire) were at one point supposedly loyal to the crown. Who’s to say this vampire cannot be bought as well?

I was, however, a tad irked by two things. One, the world-building is presented in one pretty hefty info-dump from Amaris point of view. Second, both main characters’ back stories deal with the evils of the other’s kind; so not only is Amaris vampire father a complete irredeemable asshat, but so was her ex. For his part, Raniero’s evil stepmother (is there any other kind?) was a Blood Rose.

Still, even with all the convenient contrivances of both world-building and plot, the main characters and the writing are engaging enough.

“Blood and Roses” gets 6.50 out of 10.


“Shifting Sea” by Virginia Kantra

I confess that I have always found this novella, set in Scotland in 1813, seriously poignant. It’s a romance, there is a happy ending, and yet…

Morwena is one of the Children of the Sea, elementals who “took shape in a time before time.” As such, she is immortal and possesses power over water and the sea. She has lived for eons and, though she does not know it herself, is lonely.

Major Jack Harris, lately of His Majesty’s Ninety-Fifth Rifles, has unexpectedly inherited property near the West Coast of Scotland. A veteran of the Peninsula campaign against Bonaparte, he struggles to come to terms with his new position in life in a land so far removed from what he knows, as well as learn to live with the physical limitations which are his legacy from the war.

The story is fairly uncomplicated and most of the conflict is internal to each character, particularly Morwena.

One of the finfolk, she has lived by herself and for herself. Through the millennia, she has had only sexual contact with humans, and has no real relationships with any living being other than Morgan, her twin. As the story starts, she has decided to change that, by living as a human–though on the shore–for a time. Her world widens and her perceptions of herself and others shift when she meets Jack, who is flawed in the manner of humans, but also honorable, strong, caring.

The writing is lovely, and the world-building very unobtrusive, very organic.

“Shifting Sea” gets a 8.75 out of 10.00


“Here There Be Monsters” by Meljean Brook

This is, hands down, my favorite story in the anthology. (I’ll try not to squee too much.)

In just over a hundred pages, Ms Brook manages to present a well-constructed, and fairly complex, alternative world.

In an alternative timeline corresponding to the 1800s, highly evolved technology (such as nanoagents) coexists with dangerous steam powered machinery. Monsters have been bio-engineered from already dangerous animals, such as sharks, and zombies plague almost all of Africa and most of Europe.

In short order, a relatively large cast of characters is introduced, even though only a handful of them actually have speaking parts. Their presence gives texture to the story, so that Eben ‘Mad’ Machen and Ivy Blacksmith don’t exist in limbo, and so that their motivations have real weight.

This is not a story in which a character’s actions can be explained as “because reasons“–every single one of these people does what they do because they live in this fantastic, flawless world Ms Brook created.

Ivy is desperate to flee England because she has a very real reason to believe the Horde may be coming back, and her reaction to the possibility is visceral. Yasmeen must meddle because when she cares–and she does care deeply for Eben–she knows no boundaries. Eben must construct his terrible machine and preserve his murderous reputation because hundreds of lives depend on both.

I love how Eben and Ivy bargain with each other and in the process build trust, despite past misapprehensions and current deception. (At one point, a coin is going back and forth between them, buying kisses–it reminds me a little of the bedding scene in Courtney Milan’s “The Governess Affair”) I love that Eben is honest with her, even when it would serve his end goal to lie. I love how much Ivy’s self-confidence grows during the story.

The world-building is nothing short of brilliant. All the basics of the Iron Seas universe are introduced so economically, so organically, that the reader doesn’t really need to stop and ponder what different things mean. The technology, the history, the politics–all of it, is revealed as necessary, neither too much nor too little, neither too early or too late.

“Here There Be Monsters” gets 9.50 out of 10 and my unreserved recommendation.

If you want to see whether Steampunk romance is for you, read this story.

7 Responses to “Burning Up (Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra, Meljean Brook)”

  1. Rowena 30/12/2014 at 12:55 PM #

    Alright, you’ve convinced me. This anthology sounds good. I’m going to get it and read it. Thanks for the review sweets.

    • azteclady 30/12/2014 at 1:20 PM #

      So long as you are aware that there’s plenty of sex compared to the page count…

      Please do let me know how you like these stories–or not 😉

  2. bamaclm 31/12/2014 at 2:50 PM #

    I have this anthology and what does it say that the only story I remember is “Here There Be Monsters”? It appears it’s time for a re-read! Thanks for reviewing, AL.


  1. “Frozen” by Meljean Brook | Her Hands, My Hands - 17/01/2015

    […] more and more time in. Because I suck, I’ve only reviewed the first novella in the series, “Here There Be Monsters,” so far but I aim to correct that horrible, terrible, no good oversight this […]

  2. The Kraken King, by Meljean Brook | Her Hands, My Hands - 23/02/2015

    […] yet, to date I have only reviewed one of the stories set in this […]

  3. Wild Invitation, by Nalini Singh | Her Hands, My Hands - 02/03/2016

    […] anthology back in February 2013 *wince*, I have only reviewed one of the novellas in the series: “Whisper of Sin,” from Burning […]

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