Pros: Lots of great action and fun chemistry; love the magic
Cons: The depiction of “science” and scientists is horrid; the sex definitely won’t appeal to everyone; some character material
Rating: 2 out of 5
Grayson, a mercenary and a traveling minstrel, would sell his skills to the highest bidder to win his soul back. The worst of his impulses manifest as an entity he calls Shad, one he constantly tries to resist. Now he’s been hired to kidnap a fire witch, with the reward being the restoration of his soul.
Cenda lost her baby in the same illness that gifted (or cursed) her with the power of flame, and she doesn’t want to go on living. Gradually a combination of her powers, her friends, and Grayson drag her back into the world of the living. She discovers joy again—and love. Her time is running out, though, as Grayson’s employers insist he bring her to them.
Denise Rossetti’s The Flame and the Shadow both enthralled and annoyed me. The depiction of fire magic and of Gray’s shadow-self were intriguing. The action-packed scenes were well-paced, and I definitely wanted to know what happened next. The world was visually interesting and fun to read about. However, these things couldn’t overcome the negatives.
The sex has a few kinks to it that not everyone will be comfortable with. Not so much in terms of the act itself, but in certain other aspects. Gray’s shadow-self, Shad, gets involved. This works in some ways, and is used to add to the eroticism, but it has a couple of other unfortunate effects. Because Shad occasionally comes across as very childlike in his needs, wants and actions, I sometimes found the suggestion of his involvement in sex to be… disconcerting. Also, since he’s a dark twin to Gray in more than just form, any direct sexual interaction between the two of them held definite overtones of incest.
Some of the character depiction annoyed me. The main characters have several “too stupid to live” moments where I just couldn’t believe they didn’t pick up on the obvious. Both Cenda and Gray remained incredibly naive regarding certain things well past the point where it seemed to make any sense.
As for the science—well. In terms of characters, the “technomage” bad guys are monolithic and stereotypically cold and evil. They’re physically unfit, of course, and go by number rather than name. But that isn’t even the part that annoys me the most. As far as I can tell, the technomages are a direct rip-off of the technomages from White Wolf Games’s “Mage: the Ascension” roleplaying game, and as such, they retain all of the things that didn’t work about the technomages in that game. For instance, the idea that science and scientists are inherently evil is laughable, ridiculous, and utterly out-of-date in today’s world. The technomages of course refuse to believe in magic—despite the fact that they’re freaking called technomages. In The Flame and the Shadow “science” is referred to almost as a religion by the technomages, i.e. they say “Science!” as an exclamation where others might make some sort of religious exclamation. Yet this is so simplistically depicted that where the other characters have a wide variety of sayings at their disposal, apparently the scientists are so uncreative that “Science!” is as far as they got.
It’s too bad that the author decided to build such a one-dimensional, stereotyped set of bad guys for her world. It would have been so much better without them. Until they showed up I was enjoying the book much more, but once they took the spotlight I grew progressively more annoyed with what I was reading.