FoxandBirchRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

For Fletcher Lane, fire has been a symbol of tragic ends and new beginnings. When he cast the murderous vampire into the flames and set the cursed book alight, he saved his friends and his city, but ended up possessed by the spirit that had been captured within the magical grimoire. Now his thoughts are never his own and he’s hearing the book’s mutterings in an ancient tongue that he doesn’t want to understand. He’s having nightmares that even the powerful dryad can’t help clean away. He’s not quite going mad, but he needs help and he needs it soon. The town’s witches don’t even know where to begin, but they’re trying. It’s now a race against time to free Fletcher’s mind and soul from the ancient book.

Things only get worse as the week goes on. Following on the heels of White, hired by Hector, a powerful and evil witch who knows the secrets of Rowan Harbor all to well, come three bounty hunters — men who sniff out shifters, witches, and other paranormals for the safety of the human race. And for money. One of the men poking their noses into Rowan Harbor’s business is all to familiar to Fletcher. He’s the man who killed his mother, who killed a gentle woman who loved her son and husband and set their family trailer aflame. All because she could turn into an owl and Bob could use the money.

It’s hard enough to keep the book from driving him crazy; now Fletcher has to stand and nod at his mother’s murderer, knowing that she will never have justice. In order to protect the people of Rowan Harbor, Fletcher must let it go. Must let Bob go. If Bob should be killed or arrested, more men like him would come skulking around his new home. They might find out that Wade and Jesse are werewolves, that Devon has fairy blood, that Fletcher didn’t die with his mother. They might even find the powerful dryad, Oak, who protects Rowan Harbor. Fletcher won’t put the people he loves at risk of harm, even as it eats at his heart the way the book eats at his mind.

But how to keep the three bounty hunters from finding out the truth about the town? They’re looking for a vampire already sent to his final death and neither Bob nor Frank are buying the idea that White just… moved on. While Wade plays host to the older men, Fletcher finds himself distracted by the younger man, Conner, whose charming smile and guileless eyes make Fletcher want to get closer and learn more, even though he knows that’s a bad idea. Distracting from his attraction to Conner, and making it hard to concentrate on anything is the book… who has a name: Aldric.  He’s a young witch who has been trapped in the book for centuries, alone in the dark or alone with Hector. Through Fletcher, he’s learning how to communicate and he has enough trouble trusting Fletcher, let alone bounty hunters hired by the man who wants to possess him.

This is the third volume in the Rowan Harbor Cycle series and is not meant to be read as a stand alone. It picks up right on the heels of book two as Fletcher’s story takes over where Jesse’s left off. Of all three books, I think this is the one I liked the least, though I did still like it. In this book there’s a lot of plot, a lot of world building, but the emphasis is placed upon Fletcher and Connor’s growing relationship. Like the others, there’s a love at first sight element, but it just didn’t work for me as well this time as it did in the previous books.

Fletcher and his father are relatively new arrivals to the town, and while no one knows about their tragic past, they can certainly sense that the two men are hurt and hurting. When they finally do learn about Fletcher’s mother, they rally around the two of them, protecting them as best they can from the bounty hunters. It’s touching and it’s sweet to see how the town comes together to never let Fletcher or his father be alone with Bob — or even in his company. When it’s clear that Connor is as interested in Fletcher as Fletcher is in him, the town waits to see what Devon has to say on the matter, but … even then they’re still not willing to sit by and let Fletcher be hurt. They make it clear to Connor that they’re watching him, and one wrong move will be his last.

Fletcher and Connor feel less developed than Jesse or Devon and Wade. We learn that Fletcher isn’t really a werefox, though that’s the form he takes, but a true shape shifter. His mother had been able to take any animal shape she liked but hadn’t been able to pass it on to her half-human son; her teachings had been interrupted by her death, which seems to have paused Fletcher in life, as well. He watches childrens cartoons, loves Disney movies, eats candy cereal and junk food and… goes to work? I couldn’t connect with Fletcher because it felt like he was only half filled in with only the vaguest of ideas.

Connor is just a good guy. His father was a bounty hunter, a friend of Frank and Bob’s, and, after he died, they asked Connor if he wanted to join them. In order to get closer to his father, who had been distant all of his life, by getting to know his friends and colleagues, Connor agreed. I can’t tell how experienced he actually is; he mentions not having been with Bob all that often or on many trips and yet talks about how evil vampires are as if he knows about them. Is this because he read a dossier on them or because he’s had first hand experience? Sadly, Connor comes across as a good guy, and not much more.

When Connor first makes a very gentle pass at Fletcher — or maybe it’s just a very convincing batting of his eyes — Fletcher doesn’t initially know how to react. He does eventually decide, once Devon assures him Connor isn’t evil or anything like Bob, that he has to let Connor see him as who and what he is before he makes up his mind. (This will also be a good excuse as to why the town is so suspicious of them, if Connor thinks they’re protecting a shifter rather than that the town is full of paranormals.) It’s an adult step and while I approve in theory, I’m not sure it was the wisest decision. Connor, though, accepts Fletcher turning into a fox in stride. So much so that there’s not really any reaction other than ‘wow’ and ‘hey, so I have your phone. Do you want it back?’

Their relationship came too easily. It was like one of Fletcher’s Disney movies — though with a little less clothing — where two lovers meet and all is right with the world. Or will be once they rid themselves of the villain who is conveniently villainous. In the previous book, the vampire, White, was a nasty guy, but not cartoonishly so. He was powerful and driven and we got a good look at his personality as well as his motives. With Bob, we just know that he’s evil. There’s no more to him than that, and no personality, either. Oh, and Frank is there, too. Even Hector, the great mysterious evil force who set off the chain of events in book two and who we finally meet in book three, is just Evil.

There is also the matter of Aldric, a young man — more of a boy, really — who found himself trapped in a book for hundreds of years. He was slowly beginning to learn how to talk to Fletcher who learned more about Aldric’s unhappy past. The two of them were finding a harmony, a balance but, again, it was over before it really had a chance to be anything. I feel as though too many strings were being woven together, too much was being rushed over to make room for the next big event. If Bob was going to be a villain, then have him be a villain; don’t have him show up, vanish, and then show up again for a curtain call. Hector was given a great deal of set up in this book and the previous one, but he was gone almost as soon as he showed up.

The pacing in Burns’ books is always swift with events taking place over a week or so for the characters, but I think that this book could have used a slightly slower pace and some more breathing room. The relationship was too quick, the endings were too fast and too final, and I was never able to really feel a connection with either Fletcher or Connor. Not to say that this was a bad book, but it does suffer in comparison to the others, which I really enjoyed. I’m very hopeful to see Fletcher and Connor’s next chapter (three books from now) and to see how they adjust to their new relationship and Connor’s new acceptance into Rowan Harbor.

elizabeth sig

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