I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I quite enjoyed Melanie Rawn's Spellbinder a few years back, for paranormal romance and urban fantasy are by no means my favorite subgenres. But there was something about how the whole novel came together that really appealed to me. So I was curious to see where the author would take the story in this sequel.
The events chronicled in Fire Raiser take place a few years following Spellbinder. Holly McClure and Evan Lachlan have left NYC to raise their children in Holly's ancestral home in Pocahontas County, Virginia. Evan is now the county sheriff, and he is investigating a series of unexplained church fire. To his dismay, from basically each act of arson emanates the taint of magic. As the investigation progresses, Evan and Holly will stumble upon evidence which suggests that the fires are linked to a network of international human trafficking. It appears that small town politics could conceal cases of flesh trade and prostitution. Soon, it will dawn upon them that they have stumbled upon a far more complex mystery than they ever envisioned.
Fire Raiser features a compelling and multilayered story, but it takes quite a while for the tale to unfold. Indeed, it takes well over a hundred pages for the story to finally kick in, which some readers might find offputting. Especially since that portion of the book, though it lays some of the groundwork for what is to come and acts as a bridge between Spellbinder and its sequel, appears more or less dedicated to expound of various Leftist/liberal issues and gay rights. These matters do have something to do with the plot, mind you, yet I have a feeling that Rawn kind of went overboard with that particular aspect of the book.
As fun as the romance between Evan and Holly was in Spellbinder, they are way too much into each other in this one. Unfortunately, they seem to have become the sort of insufferable couple you just want to smack because they can be so annoying. Each of their POV narrative is filled with how much Evan is a hunk/stud/stallion/gorgeous, or how Holly is all that, yada yada yada. They're in love -- we get it. All the more irritating was the fact that all this stuff got in the way of a good story. Oddly enough, Holly doesn't do much in Fire Raiser. Other than trying to manipulate other characters, that is. After playing such an important part in the previous book, it felt weird to have her there simply to get on people's nerves at times. Still, I think that Melanie Rawn did a remarkable job establishing and explaining the dynamics of this eccentric family, as well as the politics of this old South county.
The supporting cast plays an enormous role in this novel. Familiar faces from Spellbinder make unexpected appearances, while new ones shape the storylines and to a certain extent even take over Evan and Holly's spotlight. Cam and Jamey, in particular, have interesting backstories and a number of plotlines revolve around them. But I fear that the gay thing was more than a little overdone. Which, in the end, diminishes the impact of what the author was attempting to convey. Although all too brief, I really enjoyed Natasha's POV, which allows us to see the other side of the story.
When the story does kick in, it's obvious that Fire Raiser is much more convoluted than it appears at face value. Moreover, I believe that this novel is somewhat of a prelude to a bigger and more complex tale. There are a lot of unanswered questions at that end which hint at many things to come.
As everything escalates, we witness to spells and rituals, and many things begin to make sense. But after such a slow start, I felt that the ending was rushed. All in all, the rhythm throughout is decidedly uneven. Though necessary to a degree, I feel that the novel often got bogged down by going a bit over-the-top with those liberal issues and gay themes, all to the detriment of what is essentially a very good story.
The human trafficking, the genetic manipulation, the roles Holly and her family have played in the past and will play in the future, and more, all hint at bigger and better things to come. The ending opens the door for many possiblities. Hence, though Fire Raiser suffers from a few shortcomings, I'm looking forward to what comes next.
The final verdict: 7.5/10