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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
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!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Lieutenant Anya Kalinczyk is an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department. Due to economic problems, the city is having higher spikes of crime. This means the DFD is kept busy. As the story opens, it is two weeks before Devil's Night (the night before Halloween). Devil's Night always seems to bring out the city's criminal scumbags. But this Devil's Night is raring up to be a nightmare. Anya is tracking a serial arsonist.

On the side, Anya is a reluctant member of DAGR, the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers, a group of paranormal investigators. Anya is only called when DAGR believes a malicious spirit may be involved. This is because Anya is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern. Ghosts are drawn to Anya and - if needed - she devours the souls with a single breath. Every by her side is her familiar, Sparky. Sparky is a hellbender, a fire elemental salamander that only a special few can see. Things become complicated when Anya accidentally picks up a demonic hitchhiker. This evil demon is ancient and has managed to get tangled in Anya's aura.

The situation worsens when Anya realizes that the serial arsonist is another Lantern, Drake Ferrer. Drake and Anya are attracted to each other, but Drake seems to have no moral ethics. He devours all spirits, not only the bad ones. He is setting blazes, consuming spirits, and killing people to get the attention of Sirrush, the dragon daddy of all reptiles who has been content to sleep deep underground since around the time of ancient Babylon. Should Drake succeed in waking Sirrush, Detroit would burn.

**** FOUR STARS! This is the author's debut novel. After reading this, I believe that Laura Bickle has a long and bright career ahead of her. Anya and Sparky are surrounded by interesting secondary characters. One of them is a handsome, pragmatic geek on the DAGR team and I hope to see him and Anya build a relationship some day. The author not only keeps events moving along with Anya having to deal with her internal demon parasite and an enticing arsonist, but tosses in a few subplots as well. (A certain male chauvinist detective really pushed my buttons and I REALLY look forward to seeing him get his comeuppance. Oh please, oh please, oh please.)

If you want a story that will make your reality totally disappear for several hours, look no further than this gem. Laura Bickle is an author to keep your eye on. ****

Reviewed by Detra Fitch of Huntress Reviews.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2011
Embers is the first book in the gritty and dark Anya Kalinczyk urban fantasy series, and despite it being Laura Bickle's debut novel she had me entranced in the story from the very first pages.

Anya Kalinczyk is an arson investigator and I was amazed at all the details that Laura Bickle included in the story of the different procedures, clues fire investigators examine. I kept thinking that either Laura Bickle knew what she was writing about due to her own professional experience or if not, then I was in awe of the amount and depth of her research. She kept all the information and explanations interesting and not too complicated for people unfamiliar with this field, yet gave enough knowledge and detail to give a solid base for the reader to understand the workings of fire and arsonists.

I think that until Embers I've only read light UF, and though the darkness of Anya's world was unfamiliar I was spellbound from the start. Despite the gritty, gloomy atmosphere of the story Laura Bickle manages to create a complex and real universe: her characterisation is spot on with layered, threedimensional, larger than lifecharacters who step off the pages; thanks to the detailed descriptions the setting of Detroit appears before the eyes of the reader (even though I have never been there) and the mystery and chase are exciting enough to induce nailbiting and heart-pounding in every reader.

Besides the very interesting character of Anya, I enjoyed that the supporting characters were just as well developed even if they got much less "screen time". And of course there is Sparky, the fire elemental salamander, loyal friend and protector of Anya. *sighs* Sparky is the most wonderful fictional pet I have ever come across. He is sweet, loyal, fierce, adorable and funny, I couldn't imagine Embers without him!

And talking about characters I have to stop and mention the two male main characters: Brian and Drake. Brian is the geeky good boy next door. He is warmhearted and shy, while Drake is the irresistible dark and handsome bad boy hero exuding that thrilling vibe of danger and wildness. You couldn't find two men more different than these two and yet the reader can completely understand how Anya is pulled towards both of them and what is the attraction of each one of them. I can only applaud Laura Bickle for not patronizing the reader by giving a black and white cardboard villain but making such layered characters towards whom the reader can't help but feel ambivalent.

Laura Bickle has a way with words. Her story flows naturally and she plays the tension throughout the novel as a master conductor directs its orchestra: brilliantly. Besides the constant darkness of the plot, she eases the strain with sparkling humour which makes an appearance when least expected. Anya's sarcastic dry humour and Sparky's wonderful cuteness lighten the mood a bit and ensure not to let the story cross over into bleak territory.

The ending was beautiful and poignant. With the final emotional climax I couldn't help my throat closing up and I felt my heart constrict. It was such a powerful ending that I not only got goosebumps but felt hot and cold at the same time.

Verdict: Laura Bickle's rich and poetic writing with her detailed descriptions and witty humour will keep you spellbound all through the story. Embers is a wonderfully vivid and emotionally deep urban fantasy novel, and Laura Bickle proves that she is an author not only to watch but to put on your auto-buy list!

Plot: 9/10
Characters: 10/10
Writing: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Cover: 10/10
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2010
Laura Bickle writes a brilliant urban fantasy debut which includes fascinating characters, a great action filled plot, set in a very atmospheric, eerie and dark Detroit.
This book is not written in one dimension as other books in this genre are.You get to know & care for the characters that surround her.
As a unique type of medium, a Rare 'Lantern' Anya can simply inhale and destroy spirits while accompanied by her familiar who is one of my favourite characters.A five foot fire salamader who's annoying, at times uncontrollable (loves electrical items), a protector, needy & very likable.
The story line has been already covered well by other reviewers, just think of Detroit,fire, demon's,familiars, ghosts & complex relationships.

Loved it. The next book in the series is Sparks which comes out soon...
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on 2 January 2012
I found this book to be very flat and empty and suffering from a serious lack of characterisation. Ciro, Jules and Brian were nothing but names on the page; there was no character development for any of them. Brian is supposed to be a contender for Anya's affections but they had zero chemistry and he was so flat I found it hard to care when he got injured.

Sparky was fun and his ability to live as Anya's torque was an interesting touch but by Anya's own admission Sparky isn't much of a fighter so why he is her guardian baffled me. He seemed ill equipped to actually protect her. That being said, their closeness was the best part of the book and the only relationship that actually seemed convincing.

Mimi was a pointless subplot that never went anywhere. I never really found her very menacing though I might have done if she'd actually put Anya's life in danger.

Katie started off interesting but ultimately the character went nowhere but by far the most wasted character is Drake. How he got his superhuman ability is never explained, he just `learned it.' Where? At the school for the magically fiery people? Admittedly urban fantasy as a genre does require a certain leap of faith but that doesn't mean explanations can't be given and details provided. The superhuman ability of Drake's is supposed to be a very important part of the story and then the best Bickle could come up to explain is he `learned it'? Sorry, not buying it. There was potential for him to have become a developed character as it is clear he is not your average villain. But he is still the villain and both Bickle and Anya seem to forget that.

Worst of all is Anya herself. The whole way through the book she felt like a poor clone of early Anita Blake with her collection of toy ducks to rival Anita's penguins. But where LKH managed to make Anita's penguins a delightful and unexpected quirk of her personality, Anya's ducks just seemed pointless.
There is a scene in a shop where Anya can't find a dress to wear and has a heated exchange of words with one of the staff. If Bickle thought this was a good way of portraying Anya as a tough female character she couldn't have been more wrong. Anya simply comes across as a bratty teenager with a bad attitude.

Anya's romance with Drake was beyond contrived; it was as if the author felt she needed a sex scene in the book so she threw Anya and Drake together for no reason. Let's be clear about this; Drake might have a tortured past and he might have been a good person once but he is trying to wipe out an entire city, slaughtering thousands of people. In the eyes of anybody sane that would unequivocally make him the villain. Yet Anya seems to forget that nasty little fact when she's around him because he's just so darn pretty!! Like a hormonal teenager she turns to mush whenever he's around and that made her lose any credibility she had with me. How am I supposed to take her seriously as a professional when she can't even keep her pants on around her main suspect? It would be nice for once to read about an urban fantasy heroine that doesn't become the victim of her uncontrollable hormones every time she comes into contact with an attractive man.

Drake seemed to fall for Anya very fast but there was no development. He tells Sirrush - the underdeveloped and less than menacing `villain' that Anya is the one thing about the city that's worth saving and quite frankly it made me want to scream. He has known Anya for just a few days, slept with her once and yet, inexplicably he seems to be head over heels in love with her.

Sadly I found this book to be plodding, dull and ultimately very pointless.
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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2011
I enjoyed this - read it at a rattling pace and wanted to finish and find out what was happening. But - despite there being a lot going on, I didn't really feel the tension building, and felt that while the ending didn't exactly come out of nowhere, it almost did - why would the big baddie just shrug and back down and why would Drake do what he did after everything he'd done beforehand, and what happened to her friends at the time of the great confrontation (maybe I was reading too fast at that point!)?? All seemed a bit tidy to me.
I agree with another reviewer that I didn't get what happens between Anya and Drake, especially given her somewhat out of the blue declaration to Brian later. I'm a traditionalist, and like my male interests to be interesting, and Brian just didn't swing it for me whereas Drake is presented initially as a potentially far more intriguing character.
However I don't mean to be all negative - Sparky is just brilliant - a lovely creation; she has friends who come through for her despite her determination to not involve them; she has a boss I'd have liked to hear a bit more from, but he was well written; she has an interesting skill that we learn could be developed massively, if Drake is anything to go by - so I will read the next, Sparks.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2011
I couldn't even finish this book. I found the main characters boring and annoying and the story-line dull and fairly predictable. The only highlight in this book is sparky - but that isnt reason enough to slog through an extremely irritating book. Instead look for patricia briggs and ilona andrews.
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