The hardest type of book to review is one that leaves the reader feeling neutral because there are no strong emotions to tap into to sway other readers to your side. Oddly enough I love paranormal romance and urban fantasy, so I expected Circle of Fire by Keri Arthur to speak to me strongly; instead I ended the book feeling a little underwhelmed with the expected happy ending and wondering how I’d reached said ending so quickly.
Maddie Smith isolated herself from the world when her untrained pyrokinesis abilities burned down her previous home with her husband inside of it. Now an “apparition” of a handsome man has come to her begging for her aid to rescue him from certain death in an old well. Despite her misgivings Maddie forces herself outside of her comfort zone and saves Damask Circle investigator Jon Barnett only to be sucked into a mysterious case involving kidnapped teenagers and bodies drained of blood. Jon seems certain that Maddie’s nephew, Evan, may be the next target, and Maddie’s psychic abilities seem to agree. However, she finds Jon far too tempting to maintain a safe distance, and there’s just something about him that hints he might not think her paranormal skills are all that strange…
What I Liked:
- The basic mystery surrounding the kidnapped teens and their bloodless corpses was just plain paranormal fun. Arthur does a good job of showing magic and extranormal abilities as potentially being both good and evil; it just depends on the intent of the user. While the reveal wasn’t anything terribly unique, it fit into a world that is almost ours. I enjoyed the ride and would have appreciated even more depth in the mystery component of the story.
- The concept of The Damask Circle, an semi-secret organization that investigates and solves potentially paranormal crimes and situations, intrigued me. I wanted more details on how the Circle formed, what type of rules they had for their investigators, and how an individual applied or was selected to become part of the Circle. I would have enjoyed a story just about the internal intrigue of the group.
- Okay, this one is huge for me: while Jon wants to protect Maddie from the evil forces surrounding the kidnappings, he never forces her to stay “safe” or to do something just because he knows better. He respects that she has free will and agency, and while he’ll try to dissuade her from accompanying him into danger, Jon will not force or trick Maddie into doing what he wants. He’s an alpha male in many ways, but this hero knows that women are people, too. Then again he has several sisters with powerful abilities plus a female boss in the Damask Circle, so he may have learned that it’s better to not beat his chest too fiercely.
What Didn’t Work for Me:
- Maddie’s background as an emotionally abused child and emotionally/physically abused wife is glossed over so much that it was hard for me to really relate to it. While Arthur establishes mental health professionals as being part of Maddie’s issues, which explains why she never sought therapy related to the emotional abuse, it bothered me that she didn’t seem to have dealt with her history as a battered wife either. She just didn’t seem to be in a place where a happy ending was a viable idea because Maddie needs to sort out her own issues before she can truly be with someone else.
- I really dislike romances where there is an instant connection between the hero and heroine, which is the case with Jon and Maddie. With her past history Jon really should have had to work to get Maddie to open her heart to him even if he was sexy enough to make her want to get into his pants. The whole instalust/sudden desire to be together scenario just didn’t make sense to me when Maddie is supposed to have been a battered spouse.
- While there is an extended period of time between the end of the main story and the epilogue where Maddie and Jon get their happily ever after the whole thing felt anticlimatic. Jon’s primary hurdle was the dangers of his position, and it really wasn’t resolved. I wanted more of a sacrifice on his part to show he’d truly chosen Maddie over the Damask Circle, and the actual ending fell flat for me.
Ultimately, Circle of Fire isn’t a bad book; it’s just not one that I’d bother to read again. It was sweet, had some fun action, and the romance angle was titillating although too rushed for my tastes. Readers who enjoy light paranormal stories with a dose of romance will almost certainly enjoy it.
3 Spell Cancelling Medallions out of 5
Circle of Fire will be available on January 28, 2014 wherever books are sold.