Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for April 20th, 2013

Just reviewed K.E. Kimbriel’s “Hidden Fires” at SBR

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Folks, I was very pleased to feel well enough to review Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES, the only book I’d not yet reviewed over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) in her excellent Chronicles of Nuala series.  HIDDEN FIRES continues the story of Sheel Atare and his wife, Darame the former free-trader (consummate con-artist) and introduces several new characters, including the naïve young would-be free-trader, Garth Kristinsson, his love interest, Lucy of Dielaan, and the next head of the powerful Dielaan family/clan, Rex.

Now, if you’ve already seen my review, you know I gave this book a slightly lesser grade than the two others, as I gave HIDDEN FIRES an A-minus.  (FIRES OF NUALA received an A-plus.  FIRE SANCTUARY received a solid A.)  I loved this book, thought the writing and world building and plot were great, loved most of the characters (and really, most is all you get in any book), but considering the other two were so exceptionally good . . . and even considering that in many ways I enjoyed this one the best of the three, particularly because of the romance involved (two good romances, even), I just didn’t feel right giving it a full A.

It’s weird, sometimes, how I grade books.  There are books I absolutely adore that aren’t worthy of A grades at all (not an A-plus, A, or A-minus) . . . for example, one of my favorite comfort books is P.C. Cast’s GODDESS OF SPRING, which has a great heroine in forty-three-year-old Carolina “Lina” Francesca Santoro, and a fine, sexy, brooding and misunderstood hero in Hades, Lord of the Underworld.  Lina is a baker from our world who’s in trouble; her newest bakery is failing despite her many talents, and she needs help.  She prays to Demeter, finding a prayer in an old cookbook, and ends up being exchanged for six months with Demeter’s daughter Persephone.  In that short span of time, she meets up with Hades, falls in love with him, but knows she cannot stay — and it doesn’t help when Demeter fails to realize that Hades truly is in love with Lina, either.

This is a book that I love, yes, but it gets a solid B from me (maybe a B-plus on a good day) for several reasons.  One, there are some really odd editing things going on in that book — stuff Ms. Cast probably couldn’t do anything about when the book first came out, but in the many reprintings since should’ve been addressed.  Two, I hate to say it, but I did not buy Persephone’s transformation at all.  While we do see some of Persephone in our world, she never once throws a hissy fit at being exchanged against her will by her mother Demeter — because, you see, Persephone did not consent to this whatsoever — and really, I would’ve expected at least one.  (Wouldn’t most people be upset if they were in their youth and first blush of beauty one minute, and in a forty-three-year-old body the next?)  But rather than being upset, Persephone insists on “upgrading” Lina’s body by exercising, dieting, and revamping Lina’s wardrobe.


Another book I’ve read again and again is by Linnea Sinclair, GABRIEL’S GHOST.  This, too, is a fine B-level effort by Ms. Sinclair rather than an A, mostly because there were elements of the plot that didn’t seem to fit as well as in other novels by Ms. Sinclair (such as the excellent AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS or even THE DOWN-HOME ZOMBIE BLUES).  Here, I loved the main characters, hated the characters Ms. Sinclair wanted me to hate, and enjoyed the rousing action-adventure — yet there was something in this book that left me feeling unsettled.

This, my friends, is the difference between an A-level of any sort and a B-level of any sort.

So what you see in my review tonight of Ms. Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, plan to read it many times in the future, and will never forget the characters nor the situations they’re in nor the world in which all this action takes place.  I thought the characters were great and did what they were supposed to, and felt that the returning “mains” — Sheel and Darame — were solid characters that felt real in every possible respect.  And I believed that the other two “new mains,” Lucy and Garth, were realistic, honestly written characters that were probably damned difficult to deal with due to Lucy’s rather odd self-abnegation (during most of HIDDEN FIRES, I kept wondering, “What does Lucy want?  Not what Rex Dielaan wants — not even what Quin, the good Dielaan wants — what does Lucy want?”  But Lucy, herself, never once asked that question of herself.) and Garth’s obvious naïveté while thinking he’s a big-time man of the worlds.

As a writer, these were Ms. Kimbriel’s characters.  They make perfect sense, in context.  And I believed them, in context.

But as people, they don’t completely make sense to me.  Even on Nuala, it seems to me that most of the women are very strong individuals whether they’re healers, Ragärees, or are farmers way out in the Ciedärlien, so why Lucy has so little sense of self — it’s not even a lack of self-esteem so much as seeing Lucy, herself, as important in the cosmic scheme of things (or at least in the microcosmic scheme of things) — is worrisome.

Granted, Ms. Kimbriel couldn’t go there in HIDDEN FIRES because it wasn’t Lucy’s story, exactly.  Lucy was a pawn, not a queen, and certainly not a Ragäree — she knew she’d been raised as a glorified “brood mare,” resented it, and wanted more for herself, but — spoiler alerts beyond this mark  — backed the wrong horse.

Big time.

And Lucy needed to back that wrong horse so we’d see her eventual redemption, an arc done particularly well by Ms. Kimbriel as Lucy, once again, is a character where very little of who she actually is comes out in anything she says.

While Garth needed to be exactly who he was — a naïve man, yet fundamentally honest enough in his own, twisty way to figure out how to keep Rex Dielaan from hurting everything (including Lucy), even if it meant joining forces with Darame Atarae in the process.

Anyway.  This book is exactly what it needs to be, but those two characters were difficult to root for in certain respects despite Ms. Kimbriel’s charming way of writing them.  (Not her fault Lucy wouldn’t talk with her, after all.  Characters are funny that way.)  That’s why even though I adored the book, and thought it’s in many ways the strongest of the three — particularly in the romance department — it received an A-minus.

One final thing about grades, though: Recently at SBR I’ve read a number of books that have been wonderful.  This is not always the case, as long-term readers of my book reviews already know.  For a trilogy to get no lower than an A-minus out of me for all three books is astonishingly good, and might even be a first.

And the series, as a whole, is a solid A.  Which rarely, if ever, happens.

So the upshot is this: Aside from Stephanie Osborn’s great Displaced Detective series (book four will be reviewed by me, here at my own blog, in the coming weeks), I haven’t read three books I’ve liked more in a very, very long time.

Really.  You owe it to yourself to read what Ms. Kimbriel has written, is writing and will write.

So do yourself a favor.  Go buy one of her excellent books.  Then settle down to read.

Elsewise, you’ll be missing something extraordinary.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 20, 2013 at 11:49 pm