Elizabeth Phoenix is a psychic, with the ability to see things before they happen, although not always with enough warning to stop them. One day she gets an urge to go see Ruthie, her foster mother, and finds her lying in a pool of her own blood. Before Ruthie dies, she tells Liz, "The final battle begins now." It's not long before Jimmy, Liz's ex-lover, turns up. The police consider Jimmy a suspect in Ruthie's death, but Liz is sure he didn't do it. That doesn't really make her want to be around him any more than she has to be, though - the reason he's her ex-lover is because he was cheating on her.
Liz is going to have to see an awful lot of Jimmy, however. Ruthie was a seer, someone who had visions that would reveal demons hiding behind human faces. Before Ruthie died, she passed her abilities on to Liz, but Liz is only able to identify demons if she touches them - very inconvenient. Seers are protected by and accompanied by their demon killers, or DKs. Jimmy was Ruthie's DK, so now he's Liz's. Liz has to learn how to use her new powers better, and both she and Jimmy have to learn how to overcome their rocky past.
My description makes this book sound like it might be paranormal romance, but it's not. I'd mainly call it contemporary fantasy, with a couple main characters who have some serious relationship history. There's lots of sex, but the first really graphic sex scene does not involve Liz and Jimmy, but rather Liz and another character - that surprised me a bit, since, by that point, I was still a little unsure if this was going to turn out to be a more traditional paranormal romance.
As far as the fantasy portion of the book goes, I'd say it's... okay. Quite frankly, too much of this book reminded me of other, more enjoyable books. Liz was tough as nails, except when she was vulnerable. Jimmy was a sexy jerk, whose jerk behavior may be mostly due to feelings of self-loathing stemming out of a secret he's hiding from Liz. Later in the book, Liz gets powers that depend upon her having sex. All this and more reminds me of other books. Those who haven't really been keeping track of the stuff coming out recently by Laurell K. Hamilton, Karen Marie Moning, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance, and others might read this book and find it fascinating and original. For anyone else, it's a bit ho hum.
If I could've liked Liz and Jimmy, I might've been able to forgive the book's lack of originality, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. The two characters hovered at the edge of becoming appealing, but I think Handeland's handling of their relationship was what kept them from reaching it. Over and over throughout of the book, Liz says that she had been really in love with Jimmy back when they were together, and his betrayal broke her heart. Near the end of the book, the Jimmy Liz knew is nearly gone, and Liz tries to bring him back by reminding him of what they had together. That sounds nice and all, except that Handeland never really showed what they had together - all readers really know is that Liz and Jimmy had, and still have, really great sex. Sorry, that doesn't paint a good enough picture of the emotional relationship they once had. Handeland needed to show that Liz and Jimmy didn't just enjoy sex, but also each other's company. She was on to something when she wrote about Liz comforting Jimmy after the two of them discover a massacre, but there was precious little of this sort of thing in this book.
Of course, Handeland might've felt that developing the non-sexual sides of relationships would be too boring for her readers. She certainly set things up so that future books starring Liz Phoenix could have lots and lots of sex. Specifically, I'm referring to the power Liz acquires which allows her to gain powers from anyone she has sex with. On the back of my copy of this book, Handeland writes about being inspired by Laurell K. Hamilton, and this is one of those times when that inspiration is obvious - after all, the overarching storyline of Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series is also set up so that Meredith can and will have lots of sex (if she is to survive the series, Meredith must eventually get pregnant) and Hamilton's Anita Blake has the ardeur (she needs sex the way vampires need blood). I read a lot of romance, and romance is one of my favorite genres, so I'm no stranger to books with sex, but I like that sex to be the result of some sort of emotional connection, not a convenient plot device.
Overall, I wasn't impressed with this book. It's possible that later books in this series will be better, as Handeland further develops the storyline and the characters' pasts and relationships with one another. Right now, however, it's a bit disappointing. With the current glut of contemporary/urban fantasy starring a strong female main character and her pack of sexy men, it takes a lot for a new book to stand apart from all the rest, and Handeland wasn't able to manage it.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Darkfever (book) by Karen Marie Moning - This is the first book in a series. MacKayla Lane travels to Ireland to track down her sister's murderer, determined not to give up despite the difficulties she encounters. She begins to learn about a hidden side of the world, a dangerous side filled with vampires, Fae, and other beings. She discovers that she can sense these beings and finds a mentor in the mysterious and unwelcoming Jericho Barrons. Because Moning has primarily been a writer of romance, paranormal and otherwise, the lack of romance (although there are a few explicit sex scenes) may turn some of her regular readers off. However, those who enjoyed Handeland's book will find that Moning's has a similar feel.
- A Kiss of Shadows (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series. It introduces Meredith Gentry, a faerie princess who's been working for a supernatural detective agency and hiding her identity from everyone. When her identity is revealed, Meredith discovers that she has a chance at the Unseelie throne, but only if she can manage to get pregnant before her cousin can get someone pregnant - you see, faeries are notoriously infertile, so pregnancy would prove the fertility of either candidate, and a fertile ruler means that the Unseelie in general will be more fertile. Those who'd like another fantasy with a dark edge, a contemporary setting, lots of sexy non-human men, and quite a few explicit sex scene might like this book and series.
- Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, set in an alternate history where vampires, werewolves and more are now a (sometimes uncomfortable) part of society. Anita Blake is a vampire executioner, an animator (she can raise the dead), and a consultant to the police on all things supernatural. In this first book, someone's killing innocent vampires, and, although Anita's killed her share of vampires, she does her best to find the killer. Those who'd like another fantasy with a darker edge, vampires and werewolves, and a large cast of sexy men might like this book and series. Those who liked Handeland's sex scenes may want to try skipping ahead to book 10 (Narcissus in Chains), which is, I believe, the point where the series' sex scenes suddenly become extremely detailed and explicit. Be warned, however - readers who skip ahead will be missing out on a lot of character development and world-building.
- The Matrix (live action movie) - A hacker finds out that the "real" world is only a construct designed to keep people docile, so that they can be used as living batteries by robots - this hacker discovers that he is the only one who can free humanity from these robots and the constructed world. Those who liked the idea of a special person who is suddenly recruited to be part of a hidden battle to save the world might want to try this movie - in addition, Ruthie reminded me of an elderly female character in this movie.
- Moon Called (book) by Patricia Briggs - This is the first book in a series. Mercy is a mechanic and a skinwalker, someone who can turn into a coyote at will. Mercy is smart and tough, but she's definitely no Mary Sue - she may be able to shapeshift or not whenever she wants, and she may be fast and have a good sense of smell, but she's also weaker and more human than most of the beings she's around. In this book, Mercy and others investigate attacks on local werewolves - although fairies have revealed their existence to humankind, werewolves haven't yet, and random killings could unveil werewolves before they're ready. Those who'd like another fantasy with a strong female main character, a few handsome male characters, a contemporary setting, and lots of werewolves, vampires and more might like this book and series.
- Touch the Dark (book) by Karen Chance - This is the first book in Chance's Cassandra Palmer series. Cassie is a gifted clairvoyant whose entire life since she was a little girl has been controlled by vampires. Three years ago, she managed to run away from the vampires who both raised her and had a part in her parents' deaths, and she's been in hiding ever since. Now the vampires are closing in, and Cassie learns that the mages are after her as well. Cassie has to figure out who she can trust, stay alive, and figure out why so many people want to kill her. Those who'd like another fantasy with a contemporary setting, a darker edge, a strong female character who gains unexpected powers, and handsome but dangerous men might like this book and series.
- Full Moon Rising (book) by Keri Arthur - This is the first book in the Riley Jensen Guardian series. Riley Jensen and her twin brother are half vampire, half werewolf. In Riley, the werewolf side is pretty strong, but she does have a few gifts courtesy of her vampire side. In this fast-paced book, Riley's twin goes missing and a naked vampire turns up on her doorstep. Riley and Quinn team up to find her brother and end up uncovering lots of scary stuff about clones of supernatural creatures (cloned vampires are only the tip of the iceberg). Those who'd like another fantasy with a darker edge, vampire and werewolf characters, and quite a few handsome men might like this book and series.