Review: Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Review: Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Book: Firelight: Darkest London #1
Author: Kristen Callihan
The Lovers: Miranda Ellis Archer & Lord Benjamin Archer
Tropes: Paranormal, Historical, Murder Mystery, Beauty and the Beast, Magic Powers, Strong Female, Woman kicks ass, marriage of convenience
Rating: 3.5 enchanted roses

Synopsis
London, 1881
Once the flames are ignited . . .Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity . . .
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

My Thoughts
I love retellings of fairy tales, particularly if they are Beauty and the Beast. It’s my favorite Disney movie and I love the story in general. There is always the slow progression of the “beastly” man growling at everybody, the woman who “tames” him, and their story of falling in love. And it’s even better when there is some magical element involved.

When I picked up Kristen Callihan’s Firelight, I wasn’t expecting retold version of Beauty and the Beast, but that’s what I got! Cue happy dance! It has most of the elements that I look for in a Beauty and the Beast story:

  • Transformed male
  • Lively female
  • An enchantress of sorts
  • A time limit before something irreversible happens
  • Roses
  • A merchant father who has lost all his wealth

Yeah, it has all of that! And those are just the Beauty and the Beast themes. Callihan has also added a bit of mystery to this tale that the lovers have to solve before it is too late for Archer (time limit!). There’s murder! There’s a curse! Miranda and Archer have to solve both all while falling in love!!

I’m not going to tell you too much more about the story. I feel like Callihan does an excellent job of telling this tale and slowly revealing things to the reader. From the synopsis, she tells the reader that Miranda has supernatural abilities and Archer is cursed. Callihan reveals both of the powers and the curse in such a wonderfully, methodic way. She drops hints for the reader throughout the book, slowly working her way up to the reveal. Once all the cards are on the table, her hints make sense.

Also let’s not forget about how, in the end, Miranda saves Archer. Because, if you’re going to have a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Belle has to save the Beast. And Miranda saves Archer in the most kick-ass way! It was just fantastic! I love when lead females don’t need the man to save them. Miranda is certainly no damsel in distress and

I’m so beyond thrilled with how the curse was solved

The Romance
Callihan’s books are a bit more hot and heavy than some of the others I’ve reviewed. I wouldn’t say this is erotica, but it is very steamy. Mom, if you’re reading this review, I don’t recommend this book for you.

From the start of this book, Miranda and Archer are attracted to each other. It is based on respect for each other’s wit, vivacity, and their ability to wield a weapon. There is a liveliness about both of them that draws to each other. Neither hold back their verbal sparring or flirting. However, Archer and Miranda are both dealing with a, “oh god, I’m a monster” complex.

via GIPHY

Archer and Miranda dance around each other because of this complex. One moment they’re flirting with each other, the next they’re second-guessing that choice. As much as they enjoy each other’s company, they’re also afraid of what will happen if they bare all. They layer their secrets with half-truths. They want to get closer, but want to shield the other from harm. It is a slow lesson in learning to trust not only each other but themselves as well. Once they do that, well, things get fiery.

What I appreciate about their relationship is that both Archer and Miranda mirror each other. They both need someone to love and accept them for who they are. To have someone tell them that past mistakes do not define them and they will not judge them. But more importantly, to have someone standby them, believe in them, and trust them unwaveringly.

“As for why,” he said slowly, “I was lonely.” His deep voice fell to something above a whisper. “I saw you in that alley, facing down two thugs with nothing save those little fists, and I thought, here is a girl who fears nothing.”

She took a shallow breath. “You see, when I met you in the vestry that day, I too thought this is a man who is fearless. Who won’t run away from things…”she bit her lip. “Who won’t leave you,” he finished for her.

Criticisms
While this book hit a lot of romance/fantasy points for me, there is one criticism I do have and it deals with consent. I wouldn’t call it rape, but I do think there are some lines being crossed.

There is a point in the story where Archer runs after the Bad Guy, telling Miranda to wait for him. She, being a headstrong female, ignores him and follows. Once things calm down, he is understandably livid with her. It was foolish and Bad Guy tried to murder her a few scenes prior. Rather than exploding in anger, he quietly boils with rage. She’s confused he’s not yelling and gets frustrated by his lack of reaction. And his response is this:

“I’ve abused your feminine notions of how a husband should conduct himself.” He took another step. “You want me to punish you–“

And then he spins her around, pushing her up against a wall. She tells him to leave off and stop.

He gathers up her skirts and start raising them while leaning into her, more or less pinning her to the wall. She tells him to stop and struggles against him.

He starts caressing/fondling her. She’s embarrassed and is still struggling.

He demands that she prove to him how she’s capable of defending herself or else, the “or else” being that he’s going to finger her. But, through the narration, Callihan sets this moment up as the deciding factor, seeming to indicate that all that happened prior was foreplay of sorts. Rather than continuing, it appears that Archer is giving her the option to say no and all will stop. But that’s not what she does.

They tensed together at the edge of a precipice. Miranda licked her lips. She only had to speak. Tell him to stop. She knew it. He knew it. One word… One word and he would walk away. She closed her eyes tight, bit her lip, and moved. A small nudge of her bottom that bid him to act.

Yes, I would say that counts as permission to proceed. However, everything leading up to that is a little dubious to me. There are clearly moments where Miranda is saying stop and she is frightened, though Archer proceeds anyway. No, he doesn’t touch her “honey pot” until she gives permission, but he has her at a disadvantage. She can’t unpin herself from where he’s trapped her. Which, again, is made clear.

There is also the matter that Miranda is getting aroused almost against her will when this starts. When Callihan first mentions that Miranda is getting aroused “her humiliation doubled as she fought against the heat and anticipation that grew within her.” There is this thing that happens called “arousal non-concordance.” I first learned this term listening to a podcast (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) with Emily Nagoski*, a sex educator and researcher who does sexual violence prevention for a living (so, she knows lots of stuff about sex). It is the idea that something sexually relevant is happening, but it is not sexually appealing. So, the idea that someone may feel aroused (blood flows to the genitals) even though something is abhorrent (ex: reading a rape account).

And I almost feel as though that’s kind of what Miranda is experiencing here. It’s as though she is becoming aroused though she doesn’t want to (even though she gives into it later).

So, like I said, I feel like there are some issues with this scene that cross the line into dubious consent.

*PS Read her book, Come As You Are, an exploration about women’s sexuality.

Conclusions
This is a great read, especially if you’re looking for a paranormal, historic romance story. I give it a rating of 3.5 for the consent issues and there are other books in the series that I love more (book 4, Shadowdance, especially). If you’re looking to start a new series, Darkest London is a great one to eat up. The rest of the books in the series hold up just as well as Firelight, if not better.

Firelight is also on audible, if you don’t have time to read. The narrator, Moira Quick does an excellent job bringing this story to life.

Also, look at these covers (at least my versions). I love them! Look how pretty!!!

Other Things I Liked
• Miranda’s sisters. Especially Daisy because she owns her sexuality and doesn’t back down from it.
• The world building is pretty good and only gets better in the other books.
• Eula the grumpy housekeeper

Swoon Worthy Quotes
• Archer’s finger grazed hers. “I feel you. As if you were connected to me by an invisible string.” He touched his chest. “I feel you here. In my heart.”
• “Not want you?” He lifted his head off the pillow. “Not want you?” His eyes flared in the firelight. “Christ, Miri, murder and knife-wielding assassins aside, you are the greatest adventure of my life.”
• “You have no choice in the matter, Benjamin Archer. I love you. Nothing you say will change that.”

 

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