Narrator: Kevin Chandler
Length: 11 hours, 9 minutes
Nat Wyatt is a firestarter, a rare and powerful elemental among the already rare elementals. It’s not only Nat’s magic that makes him special, it’s his blood. Elementals are universal donors among the magical races of the world, able to give their magical blood to shifters, mages, and even humans. Something Nat’s brother has taken advantage of. Atticus uses Nat’s blood as a cure-all; it enables him to drink and party to his heart’s content and never suffer the aftereffects. Ever since he learned what his little brother was, Atticus has been draining Nat’s blood. He’s more like a vampire than a brother.
Elementals are known for for their rather flamboyant displays when their powers first begin to mature, and so it was no surprise when Nat — as a firestarter — announced his powers to the world by burning down one of his brother’s warehouses. What the world doesn’t know is that he did it on purpose to escape his brother. But fires kept following Nat wherever he went, and where there were fires, there were deaths. Nat is innocent of these arsons and these murders, but who’d believe a firestarter? His brother has money and influence and is using them to hunt Nat down. Nat’s only hope for freedom, for justice, is the mysterious figure known as the Judge. The Judge might be the only person in Canada to give him a fair hearing and to listen to Nat’s words rather than his brother’s money.
Unfortunately for Nat, his introduction to the near-mythical Judge wasn’t a good one. You see, Nat kind-of-sort-of stole his bike. After kissing him at a party. After ditching him at the party. So it’s no wonder that Gabe Dominguez, the Judge, is a little less than willing to believe what Nat has to say about his innocence.
Nat has the entirety of their trip across Canada to try to convince Gabe to listen to him, to trust him, and to let him go free. A trip where Nat tries to prove that the sweetness of his magical blood is equaled by the sweetness of his heart. A heart that he’s slowly losing to Gabe.
This book is a cross between a road trip, a mystery, and a paranormal fantasy all wrapped up in a cute, fluffy, and charming romance. Nat, while innocent and sweet, is a smart and sharp cookie. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that flash and histrionics aren’t going to work with Gabe, but honesty will.
The author shows us the trauma in Nat’s past with clever little touches, like the fact that Nat carries a blood transfusion kit in his shoe. He’s so used to having his blood taken and used by others that it’s no trouble at all for him to give transfusions anywhere or anytime. And yet he’s generous with his blood, giving it freely to heal others. How many years did his brother drain him? And reading Nat’s story, it’s easy to believe that at first the blood was freely given… perhaps it was always freely given because he does care for his brother. He just doesn’t like what his brother’s doing.
There isn’t a mean bone in Nat’s body, but that doesn’t mean he’s a push-over or passive and helpless. He’s very proactive in trying to save his life, and smart enough to know that trying to run from Gabe won’t earn him the man’s trust. He’s playing the game and playing it well, using logic and common sense rather than just waiting for the world to happen.
And Gabe… I like Gabe. He’s assertive, unflappable, pragmatic, and always in charge. He thinks before he takes actions, and just because he’s more than a little charmed by Nat doesn’t mean he’s going to throw aside his duty or his skepticism; nor is he going to compromise himself by throwing Nat over his shoulder and taking him to bed.
This book has a sharp, alpha anti-hero and a charming protagonist with fun chemistry between them. Their dialogue feels easy and faithful to the characters and their slowly growing rapport feels natural. They neither of them trot out their backstories just to advance the plot; Nat doesn’t blurt out the truth about his brother just because there’s a lull in the conversation, he does so because it’s a natural story to tell while giving a transfusion to an injured child.
The world building in this book is so much fun. While elemental magics have been seen before, the blood was a new twist and one that worked well in the story. The way in which elemental children were treated by society was well done, especially considering how dangerous many of their powers could be. But what I most enjoyed was the author’s version of dragons, most notably dragons and their hoards. Gideon managed to draw a sharp line between natural born dragons and were-dragons and made them both equally interesting. The idea that a dragon draws power from their hoard isn’t a new one, but the idea of a dragon either growing in size and power or shrinking along with their hoards was a new one for me, and the idea of some poor dragon shrinking because his favorite stone or vase was stolen made me snicker.
The audio book I listened to was narrated by Kevin Chandler. He has a clean, clear voice with good diction and a nice, even pace as he reads. He took the time to pause between each spoken line of dialogue, and managed to keep a clear separation between Nat and Gabe as he read. However, I found his reading a bit more clinical and professional than I would have liked. There was very little urgency or emotion in his voice during certain key scenes, which in no way takes away from the story. I just found myself wishing that Chandler had invested a little more passion in the climactic or emotional scenes.
I really enjoyed this book and I’m pleased that it’s the first book of a series. I truly loved Nat and Gabe as a couple. The side characters were interesting and the world building: the magic system, the dragons, the hints at other magics and magical races out there, was so well done. I can’t wait for book two!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.