While on a run, Tanner comes across a dragon shifter stuck in a bear trap. Though wary, Tanner helps him and goes on his way, not knowing he is irrevocably tied to the shifter. Luca, however, immediately perceives his connection to Tanner and when Tanner shows up in his office, he hands him the job as his executive assistant.
Though happy to have a job, Tanner is unable to get a bead on his enigmatic boss, which he assumes, along with his physical attraction, is the cause of his edgy uncertainty around Luca, feelings he pushes to the back burner for a more pressing concern—his potential slide into insanity, suicidal ideation, and/or homicidal tendencies due to his lack of a pack bond. Soon, Tanner is not only faced with an unconventional mating bond, but becoming Alpha wolf to an unconventional pack as well. Unfortunately, this lack of conventionality puts a target on his mating with Luca and his pack that only Tanner’s strength as an Alpha and the power he commands can overcome.
Hearts of Fire drew me in with its premise, and the story does have interesting paranormal elements; however, all the pieces don’t connect as well as they should. For me, the entire story comes across as a bit one dimensional, from the worldbuilding to the characters; there isn’t much for me to invest in. Luca is your typical century-old being—arrogant, worldly, and aggressively protective of his mate. He, of course, softens when he mates Tanner, but again, that’s true to the archetype and tells me nothing about Luca. The story creates an opportunity to learn a bit more about who Luca is/how dragon culture shaped his personality, but outside of a brief glimpse of something personal, doesn’t utilize it. There is more development of Tanner’s character, but since all the narrative action and almost all the characters’ motivations center on Tanner, what I learned about who Tanner is, outside of how powerful he is as an Alpha, came from the characters telling me about Tanner rather than seeing it.
To me Hearts of Fire exemplifies a pet peeve of mine that I encounter in some paranormals—the story becomes so focused on the cool, magical elements that it ignores the more mundane aspects of world building. For example, when a large explosion occurs and a hole gets blown into the side of the office building, I’m hard pressed to believe that Luca, the CEO and owner of said building, could avoid the police and disappear for days and that’s the last you hear of the incident. If paranormals coexist secretly with humans, great, but the story shouldn’t just focus on the exciting action without the mundane/human repercussions and will need to do more than have throwaway lines to “explain” lack of exposure. For instance, Tanner makes a comment about dragons hypnotizing humans who see them, which is fine . . . except when you have a big a$$ dragon shifter (let alone an entire group of them) who apparently hunt and live in the mountains and woods on the outskirts of a city. It’s hard to believe this hypnotizing ability somehow encompass anyone who happens to look up and see a huge creature with wings in the sky (especially since flying during the day is a thing that happens) and it can come across as lazy world building.
Hearts of Fire packs a lot into a relatively short novel and seems to being doing a lot of legwork and heavy-lifting for future books to the detriment of the story it is trying to tell. The book introduces the MCs; presents several shifter species, cultures, and characters (including a mated couple with their own backstory); includes a non-shifter being with powers; and features pack bond dynamics, blood lust, insanity, inter-species mating bond politics, parental disapproval, and a mysterious fear of dragon-wolf mating. Unfortunately, there is not a lot a room for any of these elements to breath and progress naturally, creating an overall lack of depth and a few abrupt tonal/character dynamic shifts, in addition to making the narrative somewhat choppy in places. However, I do applaud ambition, and I liked how unique Tanner is as an Alpha and what he is capable of through his bonds to his mate and pack, as well as how/why the pack was established and led before Tanner.
Even though all the pieces didn’t come together as well as they could have, it’s a decent series opener and has enough interesting paranormal elements that the potential is there for more-fleshed out stories now that the major heavy-lifting has been done. It’s a quick read, and if world building isn’t a major factor in your reading pleasure and you want some cool magic and shifting, then Hearts of Fire may be for you.