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Embers - Laura Bickle
on 10 May 2010
In a city on the brink of social and economic collapse, arson investigator Anya Kalinczyk is struggling to hold her life together. By day she's caught up in the investigation of several deadly and unusual arson attacks; by night she's helping a misfit group of ghost hunters in their battle against Detroit's spiritual pests. Both are taking their toll on her, leaving her feeling increasingly isolated and lonely. When it becomes clear that the arson attacks are the work of a Lantern, a medium like Anya, she is locked into a deadly battle, not just for her own life, but the lives of of the entire city.
Embers is a unique and assured debut from Laura Bickle, capturing the heart and soul of its setting, Detroit, and giving us a fascinating protagonist in Anya. Not to mention an adorable sidekick in the form of Sparky, Anya's salamander familiar. A strong supporting cast helps create a sense of community and friendship in the novel - as much as Anya tries to shut herself away, there's always someone there to bring her out of her self-imposed exile. And that's one of the nice things about this novel: Anya isn't afraid to admit when she needs help, nor does she hesitate to ask for it. That's a trait you don't see much in urban fantasy, where the emphasis is often on the lone-gunman type character. It was refreshing to see a protagonist who's aware of her strengths and limitations, and plays to them accordingly.
The world-building is neatly done; plenty of fascinating information about Detroit and Anya's job, but fed in elegantly so that the reader is never overwhelmed or underinformed. The fantasy part of the worldbuilding - everything from ghost-hunting to Anya's Lantern abilities and Sparky - is handled equally skillfully. The plot itself is engaging, taking Anya from the ghost of a small girl, through demon possession and magical arson right through to ancient dragons. Along the way, Anya meets another Lantern who throws her world into chaos, and this is perhaps the only weak point of the novel. Drake, the other Lantern, forces Anya to question herself, and there is a well-written attraction between them. However, I didn't feel this attraction was fleshed out enough to lead to the events of the climax (I don't want to give any spoilers). The attraction was certainly not as strong as the one between Anya and Brian, a member of the ghost-hunters, and although it didn't ruin the book for me in any way, I wanted a stronger impetus for Drake to make the decision he finally did.
That aside, I'd recommend this book unreservedly to anyone - not just genre fans, but anyone who loves a well-crafted novel. I hope there are plenty more adventures for Anya and Sparky in the future!