Witch Fire, Anya Bast’s first book with her new publisher, is the starting point to a new series about elemental witches. Readers should know that this book is not romantica, like her Ellora’s Cave releases, but more mainstream, if still very hot, paranormal romance. The novel began well, and I settled down to a pleasant read, but I found the second half weaker than the first, so that in my overall opinion the book is only slightly better than the average.
After an unhappy marriage and nasty divorce, Mira Hoskins works as a waitress in downtown Minneapolis, trying to save enough money to finish her degree in psychology. One day she sees a man in the diner where she works who is so incredibly gorgeous that she has erotic daydreams on the spot. He improves further when he defends her against an obnoxious customer who asks impertinent questions about her pendant, a pentagram, which is a symbol of her religion. Mira is a practicing Wiccan like the godmother who raised her after her parents died in car accident.
On her way home she has a feeling she is being observed, and that night someone breaks into her apartment and hits her over the head. When she regains consciousness, the gorgeous man from the diner hovers above her, and two corpses are lying on the floor. The stranger tries to convince her that she is in great danger and that two thugs are out to get her, so she must put her trust in him and accompany him to a safe place. Not surprisingly, Mira does not buy any of this, but she faints again, and when she awakens, she is in the stranger’s penthouse.
The stranger is Jack McAllister, and it’s his job to protect Mira. Unbeknownst to her, there exist real witches who live in secret among ordinary humans. Most witches belong to the Coven, but there’s an evil group, too, the Duskoff, who specialize in raising demons by sacrificing witches. Both Mira’s parents died as sacrifices, and now the head of the Duskoff, William Crane, is after her because she has inherited her parents’ great magical powers of air magick. Crane needs very powerful magick at his disposal to fight the cancer destroying him. Mira’s parents and later her godmother, wishing to protect her, kept her in complete ignorance of her talents and the existence of magick in general. However, now that she is in danger, the head of the Coven, Mira’s cousin Thomas, has decided that she must be told about her background and taught how to deal with her magick.
Because she is suffering from a minor concussion, Mira must stay inside Jack’s penthouse for a few days before she can fly to Chicago to meet with Thomas. There is instant heat between Mira and Jack, and they are hard-pressed to keep their hands off each other. Jack is a fire witch, and fire and air witches have an especially strong attraction. He utilizes this once when he kisses Mira to awaken the magick dormant in her. This of course, increases the simmering heat between them. Jack has two reasons for not sleeping with Mira, though: One, he respects Thomas too much to toy with his cousin. Secondly, as a young boy he was made to watch Mira’s mother being sacrificed and has been haunted by his failure to help her ever since.
As Mira and Jack spend more time together, the magickal attraction they feel is replaced by true attraction. Anya Bast does a good job here of distinguishing between instant lust – magically enhanced here – and the deep sexual attraction that comes with beginning to know a person. Not surprisingly, the barriers break down eventually and the two of them engage in some truly hot sex. While I was happy with the emotional development of the characters so far, the sex scenes, albeit technically well-written, long, detailed and varied, left me strangely cold. Because this is very much a matter of personal taste, I need to explain why it is so. For one thing, Jack likes “to be in control in the bedroom”, and he is (in one bondage scene, among others). There’s hardly any area of initiative left to Mira, and whenever they have sex, he conducts her to several orgasms before finally taking his own release. For me, this kind of efficient precision on behalf of the man in a sex scene is a definite turn-off – too deliberate, too businesslike. In addition, Bast describes the female sexual organs in great detail, using the Latin terms. I honestly applaud Anya Bast for refusing to use cute or coy euphemisms, but I was not exactly thrilled with repeated mentions of “labia”, “clit” and “perineum” either.
Unfortunately, once the protagonists engage in hot sex, the description of everything else suffers. To that point, I was interested in Mira and Jack and how they would deal with their emotional baggage, but generic blandness pervades the second half of the book. The plot and characters are dealt with competently, but they never surprise me. Each development comes straight from the well-stocked pool of “what-to-expect-in-a-romance”. In addition, both Jack and Mira are so very pleasant. And kind. And unselfish. Both supposedly come with a great deal of emotional scarring, but it doesn’t show much except in the obligatory final misunderstanding. I stopped caring about the characters, and understood why when I read how Jack compliments Mira on never whining or whimpering with all she’s been through. He’s correct, it’s remarkable and, well, it just ain’t natural. I don’t really want to read about characters who are so controlled and heroic all the time as to border on the super-human. Give me a little real human deficiency in my romance any time.
Witch Fire is a competently written romance, but all in all too conventional to truly fascinate me. Perhaps this is because it is Anya Bast’s first novel for Berkley. She may still turn out a writer to watch. As for this novel, whether you will enjoy it will mostly depend on your preferences in reading sex scenes, because the eroticism is easily the most interesting part about it in the end.