Forever, $5.99, Feb. 1, 2012
Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.
I love reading different takes on fairy tales, the “Beauty and the Beast” story in particular, and Kristen Callihan’s Firelight is one of the cleverest versions I’ve seen.
Callihan sets her version in Victorian England and includes elements of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” and just a hint of “Cupid and Psyche” as well. I loved that both her hero and heroine had supernatural powers, making them more equal than they are in the original tale. Finally, the backstory behind the hero becoming a Beast, which begins in the Georgian period, is unique; I really enjoyed the gradual revelations about his past and how it had shaped his present and potential future. Callihan never reveals too much too soon, sustaining tension all the way to the end.
All of those accomplishments are terrific, but none of them were the reason I kept reading. At its heart, Firelight is the story of two lonely people who take huge risks in the hope of becoming less lonely, my favorite romance plot. More, both hero and heroine have complex issues that serve as obstacles to the relationship. Also, it didn’t hurt that the heroine’s first appearance is when she’s dressed as a boy.
The hero, Lord Archer, is beastly in form and, increasingly, in desire.
To end a life, see the incandescent light of a soul slip from its house—he wanted that moment, craved it. The horror of such craving shook his core and his step faltered. Never do harm. It was every doctor’s creed, his creed. That was before he’d forfeited his own life.
His supernatural nature will eventually end his human life, and because of that, he’s retreated from his previous friends and activities, hiding in his house until, by chance, he encounters Miranda, whose father once caused Archer to suffer a grave setback. Archer suffers from his isolation.
The moment she touched him his senses snapped to attention. A light shiver passed over him. He tapped it down, thought of the Queen, pickled eels, or . . . the fact that no woman had been this close to him in years. For a moment, he was dizzy… He felt the precise moment when everything changed— the subtle increase in tension in her hand, a stutter in the efficient way she moved, the shift in her breathing from strong and determined to light and agitated. The answer in him was instant, painful arousal. For a moment, he couldn’t think. He hadn’t been noticed as a man in so long that his mind barely held the echo of such memories. But his flesh . . . his flesh remembered.
…He couldn’t remember the last time human hands had willingly touched him. Not true. Miranda had. She had touched him as if he were just a man. He had lived on those moments ever since, pulled them to the fore when loneliness threatened to suck him down and drown him.
Miranda is his destiny because she has experienced similar, if less severe, isolation from others. She’s thus able to recognize his loneliness and how it might be assuaged.
As for herself, the question always remained; was she a monster? Both beauty and beast rolled into one unstable force? Despite her desire to know, there was the greater fear of putting the question to anyone and seeing them turn away as Martin had. So she kept it inside. She would not tell her husband to be, no. But she took comfort in the notion that she was not without defenses.
I loved both the dark emotional currents of this novel and Callihan’s out-of-the-ordinary approach to her fairy tale retelling. A visit to the author’s website reveals two more books to follow this one; I’m looking forward to reading them.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her novel The Moonlight Mistress is set during World War I, and she has a terrifying love of research about that period. Follow her on Twitter:@victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.