(Sunday, September 23, 2012)
During a “bizarre” firefight mission, the lives of agents Keira O’Shay and Luke Ransom were altered forever. Keira came out of that chemical inferno with enhanced psychic abilities: ever since that warehouse fire, she is a clairaudient, a person able to communicate telepathically and hear distant voices and other people’s thoughts. Luke acquired the ability to deflect fire and bullets. Not only they used to be a formidable match professionally, their new abilities intensified when they were together, connecting them also in a more intimate level. But when “family-guy” Luke asked Keira to bring their relationship to a deeper level of commitment , Keira, a woman with a tragic past and a lousy childhood, decided to quit her job as a firefighter and become an FBI agent instead. The break-up was inevitable. Luke is not a flexible man and tends to see the world in black and white…either with me or without me. Neither does Keira clearly state the reasons behind her aversion to motherhood and feeling of inadequacy . For a good part of the novel, Luke will be unaware of her dark past of foster-care child, abused and tortured, starved physically and emotionally. She may feel “historically, environmentally, genetically” inadequate for the role of mother, but it will be her involvement in a FBI mission as a SWAT agent three years after breaking up with Luke that will prove how misled she is about herself. Two things will become clear in the general atmosphere of mystery and military secrets: with her generous and brave heart, she has a natural mother instinct, and she cannot live without Luke. Another out-of-the-ordinary explosion in the Nevada desert, where a Russian cult leader is holding a group of kids hostage, will bring the two former lovers and a very special child together, and from that moment on there will be no holding them from putting their lives and their hearts on the line of fire. The” explosive” opening scene has a strong emotional impact and an outstanding dramatic effect. The initial pages (as the rest of the book for that matter) read like a movie script, with highly accurate descriptions of time and space, the scenes unrolling in front of me with vivid details and fetching dialogues. Keyra’s emotional trial is palpable: an unexplained and deep connection with one of the hostages, and the conflicting emotions when she meets Luke for the first time in three years, make her “tight and cohesive world” fall apart. Love and hate, attraction and resentment cling to the same corner of her heart. Anger and hurt still dwell in Luke’s heart too, but he cannot deny that “deep pang of pride for all [Keira] has accomplished”. In the past three years she has found herself, becoming more mature, more savvy, and to Luke’s eyes, even more attractive.
I simply marvel at the way this author takes on the romantic suspense genre with the polished skills of a veteran novelist. In this brilliant second installment of the Phoenix Rising series, Joan Swan will engross the readers with her effortless craftsmanship and those smooth and seamless shifts of focus between action and romance that can rival even the most seasoned suspense writers. After turning the last page of this compendium of pulse pounding suspense and breath-taking romance, I am still not able to tell whether I was more affected by the emotional depth of the characters’ back-stories, or more taken with the mesmerizing intricacies of the storyline. To tell you the truth, I can’t even recall enjoying a “conspiracy-theory, paranormal mystery” this much since the days of the X-files tv series.
In Luke and Keira’s story, emotions intensify and the mystery thickens: together with the theme of ghost government agencies and their secret agendas, Joan Swans brings so many emotional issues to the table (the personal hell of an abused child, expectations and compromises in a love relationship) that spoke to my heart and lingered with me even after putting the book down.
Like in Swan’s debut FEVER (Phoenix Raising #1, read my review here), the execution is spectacular and the language is vibrant and real. Funny and gritty dialogues set the lively pace of the narration, leading the reader through a wide range of emotional responses. The romantic involvement of the lead couple, the scorching sensuality ignited by their mutual raw need, the elusive truth at the bottom of their super-powers are the cornerstones of this solid piece of fictional fabrication. The plot is so clever that despite the lack of closure as far as regards the big scheme of things, this page-turner can be enjoyed as a stand alone. The dangling plot threads, the breakneck sub-plots and the introduction of secondary cast that will surely rock the world of the Phoenix Rising in the coming sequel, fuel the reader’s curiosity and enhance the thrill effect, leaving us with the awareness that our endearing characters are more in danger than ever and that someone is diligently trying to hide the truth.
That truth will still be elusive even in the final pages, but the choice of a conspiracy theme is thought-provoking and allows room for theorizing. The characters are fully nuanced, easy to root for and relate to, despite their larger-than-life nature; the emotional dynamic between Luke and Keira so engaging…the more they talk, the more they argue. They both share a personality trait that can place countless obstacles on the way to a smooth love relationship. They both possess an unforgiving, uncompromising, hard as granite temper, in addition to their psychic ability to read each other’s minds… hard to tell if this is more a blessing or a curse. When they finally unlock their hearts and understand that love is “about finding strength in the sum of our parts instead of fighting alone”, their release will be even more rewarding. To tighten up the threads of this rich and imaginative series, Joan Swan revisits familiar faces (Teague and Alyssa from Fever, installment #1 in the series ) and introduces an ensemble of new characters that move around our lead couple with the loyalty, the stealth and the precision of a SWAT team.
And then there is Mitch, Mitch Foster: “the dragon slayer” attorney, the man who gets things done with the power of a telegraphic phone call…there is no special force pilot, military helicopter, heavy artillery, or loyal bodyguards that he cannot obtain with a simple (and mysterious) call from his mobile…we will get to know his secret sooner or later. This character definitely deserves his own spotlight.