I wanted to like Karen Harbaugh’s first single title, but had a hard time warming up to the characters. Circumstances force both protagonists to hide their true identities and to keep secrets, which keeps the reader from getting to know them. Plus I was confused about the heroine’s background, and certain aspects about her nature were not explained to my satisfaction.
Simone de la Fer became estranged from her family years ago based on her behavior as a young woman after she fell in with the wrong crowd. Her lover and his friends sacrificed Simone during a ceremony and transformed her into a vampire. Then Simone lost her remaining family during the horrors of the French Revolution, after which she vowed revenge on the revolutionaries. She dedicates herself to saving those sought by the revolutionaries, and earns the nickname La Flamme.
Michael Corday spies for England. Tiring of the business, he wants to get out of it. He is apathetic about whether he lives or dies, and reflects that he might not deserve to live due to the numerous atrocities he has committed. He goes to France to ferret out a spy who threatens England. Two of his comrades were betrayed and killed, and he must succeed where they failed. Michael trusts and relies on absolutely no one in his life – no family, no friends, nothing – he is totally alone. When he stumbles upon Simone, his only thought is how to use her to help him reach Paris.
Simone is equally alone, and she trusts Michael just as much as he trusts her. She is a wanted criminal and a vampire; if either secret is revealed her life could be forfeit. Michael and Simone weave a very tenuous truce because they both have business in Paris and will be less suspicious to authorities if they travel together. They travel with the very authorities they wish to avoid, hiding in plain sight. Simone’s vampire powers are both a help and a hindrance.
Simone and Michael are both tortured people in their own fashion. Simone regrets her mistakes and visits her priest regularly to try and restore her humanity. The more good deeds Simone does, the more it seems she can withstand sunlight and holy places. Although she does not “die” when she sleeps during the day, she is unable to function well and must wrap all her skin away from the sun. She still retains her incredible quickness and strength, but the blood lust abates more as she balances the scales, so to speak. Michael has a horrific past to overcome and truly has nothing to live for. His only connection to life is Simone, and the mystery of her keeps him intrigued and focused.
As they face serious danger together, they become closer and let down their guards. Nevertheless, the secret from Michael’s horrible past is not revealed until the very end of the book, and then it is not of his own design. His character is so secretive, he revealed almost nothing to Simone unless it was forced out of him by circumstances or by someone else. As a result, it was hard to sympathize much with him.
As for Simone, I was never completely certain how long she had been a vampire. She also mentioned other vampires, but absolutely no details were given about them. Did she have vampire friends or were all vampires enemies of each other? Were other people turned into vampires with the same ceremony? How many other vampires were there? Some of these details were not explained to my satisfaction. It is not enough to say that a character is a vampire, readers of these types of novels, myself included, want the mythology. And because Simone’s situation was different than other vampires I’ve read about, even more background information was needed; I was never satisfied with what little was provided. The ending was also problematical for me with regard to Simone’s powers and nature.
Simone and Michael were both so isolated in their emotions that I found it hard to connect with them until well into the story. The journey that they take with each other was gripping and well written, but the problems I had connecting with the characters made it hard for me to enjoy . Fans of Harbaugh’s will no doubt want to pick up her first full-length novel, and I would like to read her next one also. This one just didn’t work as well as I’d have liked.