Sep 8 2017 12:00pm

Welcome to Beth Cato’s Alternate History San Francisco in Call of Fire

Call of Fire by Beth Cato

Alternate history with excellent world building? Check.

Tough, likable heroine? Check.

Smart, beta hero? Check.

Call of Fire will check all the most important boxes for fans of steampunk, although it isn’t a traditional romance. As the author says on her website, this series has a romantic subplot and sexual tension that runs through all three books in the trilogy and escalates as time goes on. 

Although this is the second title in Beth Cato’s Blood of Earth series, this book can be read on its own without confusion (although book one is certainly worth reading!). The second installment in the series picks up Ingrid Carmichael’s story immediately after an earthquake tears apart San Francisco in an alternate 1906. The tide of earth-based energy unleashed by the quake reveals the true extent of Ingrid’s god-like powers and she is forced to flee a centuries-old mythological creature who wants to help the United States and Japan achieve world domination.

One of the best things about the world created by Ms. Cato is the attention to detail that is clear in every word. Technology, magical creatures, and political battles all play important roles in Ingrid’s story, but each element works together so that readers are swept along by the story rather than dwelling on the (intentional) anachronisms. For those who are into such things (I am), there is even a detailed author’s note and research bibliography at the end of the book.

Also, there are airships. I love me some airships.

Another element that makes Call of Fire truly special is its realistic depiction of a diverse society. In this alternate history, the US and Japan are allies and Chinese culture is subjugated. Ingrid’s bi-racial identity and appearance make her a target of racism, both casual and malicious. Her relationship with her own history and culture, as well as with Cy (her suitor) and the world around her, are explored expertly. One great example is a scene in which a white woman assumes that Ingrid is unable to read a message board written in English, despite Ingrid’s assertion that a) she does not need help, and b) she was born in America.

Ingrid stared after her, flushed and frustrated. She knew from experience that it wasn’t worth the effort to correct the woman’s misperceptions. Straight-out bigots were often easier to deal with than well-meaning bigots. The woman would certainly be pleased with herself the rest of the day because of her good deed.

Call of Fire does show on-the-page intimacy, but it is not a super steamy read. Instead, the reader is treated to sex scenes that illustrate the mutual respect and romantic connection between Cy and Ingrid.

His arms wrapped around her waist and he lifted her up. Her legs barely had time to grip him and then she impacted on the bed with a gasp of breath. Her thighs didn’t relinquish their hold. He propped himself up one arms. His fingertips traced over her check and jaw, and down the width of her lips. She kissed his thumb and gave it the slightest nip.

Cy is a consummate gentleman and it was nice to read a historical (or in this case, an alternate/fantasy historical) about a relationship with external obstacles instead of issues created by the couple’s own misunderstanding or egos. Also, he sounds dreamy. I didn’t think pince-nez glasses would work for me at first, but Cy turned out to be such a complete package of awesome that I am willing to overlook his one questionable sartorial choice. I mean, this guy can fix an airship engine, quote opera, and fight the bad guys all at the same time.

She expected some last words of wisdom, a reminder for her to stay back and safe. Instead, his lips crushed against hers in a hungry, desperate kiss that stole away and made her heart speed up even more. He pulled back, a thousand poignant words shining in his eyes, and turned away with a ripple of wet leather.

Do tell me more about this wet leather you speak of, Ms. Cato.

Even though I often gravitate toward steamier paranormals and urban fantasies, I enjoyed Call of Fire so much I bought a copy for keeps after my review copy expired. The ten-dollar price tag for an e-book is steep in comparison to many books on the market today, but a book that combines all the elements present in Call of Fire—and does it wellis a rare treasure. I look forward to the final book in the trilogy.


Learn more about or order a copy of Call of Fire by Beth Cato, available now:

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