Within the Flames
One advantage that romance series have over other genre series is that they can change up the characters. While the Harry Potter books require a deft writer who can show us both character growth and story progression, a romance author can introduce a new couple every novel and only minimally progress her overall story arc and still deliver a strong addition to the series. That is what has been happening with the Dirk & Steele series and I have been absolutely loving them.
Lyssa has been in hiding for over a decade, since the rest of her family perished in a nightmare of fire and blood. The enemy continues to chase her but Lyssa has become adept at running. In her own mind, she is a monster, bearing the mark of that in a deformed arm that reveals her dragon nature. She protects herself – and others – by remaining off the grid. She has made a life for herself in the underground world of New York, becoming an artist and developing clandestine friendships that help her thrive while she survives. She hides her arm beneath long sleeves and gloves, her fiery nature by denying the beast within her. Then he comes, the man who haunts her dreams and sets her sleeping and waking worlds to flame.
Joining Dirk and Steele saved Eddie’s life. It gave purpose to his odd gifts and meaning to his existence. He is a natural at helping people in trouble, at feeling compassion for those in merciless situations. When he is given the picture of a helpless girl to rescue from the direst of situations, he jumps at the opportunity to serve. But Lyssa is no lost little lamb and she is not helpless prey. Instead, she is the strongest predator known to their kind and a fiercely independent woman determined to deal with her own problems. But as the witch hunting Lyssa comes closer and closer to getting her it is clear that it will take their combined fire to combat the evil stalking them. They can only hope their heated attraction to each other doesn’t burn the city down around them – before they can defeat their enemy and give in to the desire that seeks to consume them.
As our story begins we meet the Cruor Venator, an unspeakably dark and evil witch practicing blood magic. The blood of shape shifters and other magic bearing beings is an incredible boost to her power, and Lyssa’s blood combines many elements that make her the most succulent treat of all. Conversely, the power to destroy this evil being also lies within Lyssa’s blood. Thus the reason for the endless cat and mouse game they have played since Lyssa’s earliest years. Lyssa is reluctant to accept help from anyone since it immediately makes them targets in this unholy hunt. But Eddie is different. Not only has she dreamed him, and not only does he touch the beast within her the way no one else can; he seems able to handle the fight coming. When he stands up to the witch’s minions, fighting them in a way she has never seen before, Lyssa knows she has found the help she has secretly yearned for. She still fears she will be his doom, but the two join forces, finding themselves drawn closer and closer together as they protect those around them from harm. Slowly, they manage to turn the tables so they are no longer the hunted but the hunter.
Eddie has drifted in and out of the last several Dirk & Steele books. We’ve seen the struggle he has to control his power, but also had a chance to get to know what a good hearted guy he really is. I loved that this book gives us his full background and that we get to delve into a lot of what makes him tick. With a character like Lyssa, who is so tremendously powerful, it is hard to find a good hero who can both accept that he is a bit less in the strength department but still be heroic and strong. Lucky Lyssa – Eddie is exactly that. He is a perfect match to her abilities and is able to combine his with hers to turn them into one awesome kickin’ team.
Lyssa has good reason to fear. Her enemy is really evil and really strong. Hiding has allowed Lyssa to build up the power she will need to defeat her foe. But she has also stagnated and allowed herself to become a bit complacent. Fortunately for her Eddie is just the kick in the pants she needs to get moving. I liked her relationship with Eddie. Once she realises that he too can not be burned by her fire, she starts to let him in. We meet a warm, compassionate person who wants to be out there living, but is afraid. Lyssa’s fear of herself is, I think, where the book falls down a tad. Everything about her is powerful, including her shape shifter beast (dragon) and given what is chasing her, you would think she would be grateful to be so strong. But Lyssa can’t fully accept the dragon, which lessens her power. She also is terrified that she will give in to the dark side of the power in her blood. This irritated me a bit. I understood why she would not want to embrace vengeance, which could lead down some dark roads, but eliminating what hunted her was not vengeance. It was literal species survival since the witch killed everything she could to gain power. Lives were lost while Lyssa wrestled her inner demons. It caused this reader some mild frustration, which sort of brought down my enjoyment of the tale.
What did work was the romance. Eddie and Lyssa weren’t just hot for each other, they really cared. They saw things in each other they liked. They could relate to the dark in each other’s pasts. They were tender and caring almost right from the beginning. Another plus point for me was that they didn’t jockey for who would be in control. Once in awhile one would get stupid and overprotective, but it was about protection, not dominance. For two characters who were so mighty, they were refreshingly humble.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has been keeping up with the D&S books and for any fan of Ms. Liu. If you like paranormals, I think this book stands enough on its own that it would be a good read for someone who hasn’t read the other books.