Author: Laura Bickle
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 08/31/10
WITHOUT A TRACE
Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern, who holds down a day job as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department -- while working 24/7 to exterminate malicious spirits haunting a city plagued by unemployment and despair. Along with her inseparable salamander familiar, Sparky, Anya has seen, and even survived, all manner of fiery hell -- but her newest case sparks suspicions of a bizarre phenomenon that no one but her eccentric team of ghost hunters might believe: spontaneous human combustion.
After fire consumes the home of elderly Jasper Bernard, Anya is stunned to discover his remains -- or, more precisely, a lack of them; even the fiercest fires leave some trace of their victims -- and she is sure this was no naturally occurring blaze. Soon she’s unearthed a connection to a celebrity psychic who preys on Detroit’s poor, promising miracles for money. But Hope Solomon wants more -- she’s collecting spirits, and in a frantic race against time, Anya will face down an evil adversary who threatens her fragile relationship with her lover, her beloved Sparky’s freshly hatched newts, and the wandering souls of the entire city.
Plot: 4 Stars
Two words: Baby newts! I knew I would love this story from the moment I read the back cover copy because I absolutely loved Sparky the first time around, so of course I would enjoy more little Sparkies. Baby newts aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the detail of this novel, both in Anya's arson investigation job and her DAGR side project. The author really showed that she researched and knew her stuff when I read the paragraphs describing the possible spontaneous combustion and arson scenes. There was just one teeny tiny thing about the plot that I didn't absolutely love, and it involves the ending. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that there were some events in the last couple chapters that seemed a bit too fantastical and coincidental. It was almost as if Anya didn't work hard enough to defeat the bad guy. But they can easily be overlooked because this story was fantastic.
Pace: 5 Stars
The pacing of this novel was perfect. I never wanted to put it down, but it was long enough that I could savor it. I love that there was never a point in which the characters stood around trying to figure out what to do, they just did what needed to be done. And Anya didn't sit around ruminating on things too much without action. A proper amount of time passed between each incident. The author did a fantasic job making sure there weren't so more events packed into a day than there was time.
Characters: 4.5 Stars
The best part of this novel (aside from Sparky and his baby newts) was getting to follow Anya and the members of DAGR through another adventure. Anya's relationship with Brian was progressing slowly, and I hope there are future novels in this series so we can see how the relationship plays out now that Anya knows more about him. I absolutely love that he set her up with all sorts of technology gizmos to watch over the newts. Katie was a lovely burst of humor, especially when she drags Anya out shopping. I thought Anya was a bit out of character during that shopping trip, but with everything going on in her life, I guess you can't blame her. As far as villians goes, Hope Soloman was one of those villians that I loved to hate and rooted against her the whole time.
Cover: 5 Stars
I love this cover just as much as the cover of the first book in the series, Embers. The color palette screams fire and is really eye-catching. I don't think many books could pull off this color palette and not be about an arson investigator and lantern. The cover model chosen is exactly how I envision Anya, and she definitely gives off a tough-as-nails, don't-mess-with-me vibe. My favorite part is the salamander torque around the cover model's neck. As much as I'd love to actually see Sparky on a cover, the torque is just as great because it shows that he hasn't been forgotten.
Overall: 4.5 Stars
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author.