Pros: Powerful; passionate; fascinating story; beautiful shades of gray
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Varinski family is legendary—a legendary evil, that is. Their ancestor made a pact with the devil, selling his descendants’ souls in return for their ability to transform into predatory animals and track their prey unerringly. They’ve amassed a fortune by working as mercenaries, selling their skills to the highest bidder. But their star has begun to dim. Just as prophecy foretold, the greatest among them fell in love and forsook all that made him a Varinski, changing his name to Wilder and fleeing to America to be with his Romani wife. Now Varinski children are born deformed—part man and part beast—or they’re drooling idiots. The pact with the devil is failing, and should the Wilder children succeed in reuniting the family icon, the pact will be destroyed entirely. The Wilders will stop at nothing to succeed, and the Varinskis are determined to stop them.
It was foretold that the four pieces of the icon, scattered to the four corners of the earth by Satan, would be found by the true loves of the four Wilder sons. There’s just one problem with that—no, scratch that, two. First, the Wilders had three sons and a daughter. And second, the Varinskis have finally found the Wilders. The family has run out of time.
Firebird Wilder did fall in love—but it happened several years ago, and she fled home from college and gave birth to a son. She never told anyone who the father was. Now, events have caused her to realize that she may have drawn some incorrect assumptions about Douglas Black, and that she needs to find him and bring him home to meet his son and the rest of the family. She’d better hurry, though, because the Varinskis are hot on her trail—and Doug has been hiding quite a few secrets of his own.
Christina Dodd’s Into the Flame is a gorgeous follow-on to Into the Shadow. Her lead characters are vastly different from one book to another, with completely different dynamics in entirely different situations, making the books wonderfully separate. I’m not so fond of series where each book feels like a rehash of the previous. We get to see a different portion of the Varinski family as the family goes on the offensive.
Doug and Firebird make a fantastic couple for this sort of book. They have enough of a history that we don’t waste the climactic novel of the series watching the introductory dance-steps of a relationship. Instead, we watch them try to deal with the fallout of what came before and how they handled it (or failed to). Ms. Dodd has a particular couple of strengths as a writer that eliminate some of the plot frustrations that are often present in novels. For one, she doesn’t artificially prolong the keeping of a secret, and in particular she doesn’t force the characters to be artificially stupid in order to keep them from realizing something important and acting on it. She acknowledges that the characters have brains and will use them, and goes with it. For another, any misunderstandings that occur between her characters make sense for those characters and are resolved in their proper time—they aren’t blown out of proportion or, again, prolonged artificially in order to raise tension or keep a couple from uniting.
One of my favorite aspects of the Darkness Chosen series is the lack of black-and-white answers to everything, and that’s particularly reflected in Into the Flame. The series deals with a literal pact with the devil, yet it doesn’t seek to turn every decision into a hard-edged black-and-white thing. Sometimes justice is harsh. Sometimes triumphing over evil requires killing. And just because someone has done wrong doesn’t mean he or she cannot be redeemed.
Doug and Firebird’s reunion isn’t easy, but it is beautiful. The climactic battle of this series is suitably destructive and kept me absolutely glued to the pages. I highly recommend checking out Ms. Dodd’s work if you haven’t already.
[Usual adult material warning: moderately explicit sex scenes.]