Tour’s Books Blog

March 15, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Playing With Fire by Katie MacAlister

Katie MacAlister writes contemporary romance, and the urban fantasy paranormal Aisling Grey books.  Aisling makes a brief appearance here, but Playing With Fire is the first book of the Silver Dragons series.  MacAlister’s urban fantasy has creatures both mythical and magical living with humans and includes frequent popular TV and film pop culture references.  Her style is an interesting mix of humor and drama and quite entertaining.  The opening lines, “Good Twin calling evil twin.  The weasel crows at midnight. How Copy?”, sets the stage for this urban fantasy romantic suspense story that reminds me somewhat of Harry Dresden on a smaller stage.

May Northcott, a doppelganger thief that is owned by a demon lord, Magoth, thanks to her ‘twin’ sister, Cyrene,a ditzy naiad with a penchant for public trouble.  May was ‘created’ from Cyrene by Magoth during a time when Cyrere was enthralled by him.  At his request, she bound May to him.  Like all dopplegangers, her original twin had to surrender a part of herself to her ‘twin’.  Cyrene chose to give her common sense.  (The fact that Cyrene is enthralled with a demon lord does leave me wondering if she had much common sense to begin with.)  The sign of a doppelganger is the lack of a shadow when in light.

Magoth makes good use of May’s unusual ability to ‘shadow walk’ – disappear into the shadows thereby avoiding most security.  Magoth’s very vain, handsome, bad tempered, sexy, greedy, willful, spoiled, – and he wants to seduce May.  May is finding it harder and harder to resist his advances.  His latest order to steal the Liquor Hepatis from a mage has May dealing with her well meaning, but flakey twin during a difficult robbery.  Affectionately called Mayling by Cyrene, is ‘trying to be helpful’ by keeping watch from a tree – sort of.

Despite the distractions from Cyrene, May does steal the Liquor Hepatis, and she also lifts one other item in the same case, a small box that was all but invisible.  She even manages to get away, but not without everyone knowing it was the famous thief ‘Mai Ling’ – a misunderstood version of Cyrene’s endearment, Mayling.  May and Cyrene take a moment to check out the booty and discover the little box holds the very rarest of the rare – the fifth element, quintessence.  May knows she’s in BIG trouble.  The box must go back to its owner before Magoth even knows it exists, much less in her possession.  Just to make things interesting, Magoth tells her she stole the Liquor Hepatis from archimage Dr. Kostich, leader of the committee that rules Otherworld, one of the most powerful people on Earth.  And now he has a very substantial price on her head – several million plus a benefaction, a gift so great kingdoms have fallen trying to secure one.

The next night, Cyrene and May attempt to return the box by accessing the mage’s property through the supposedly empty rental property next.  Thing is, the renters are there, and they’re dragons.  Not just any dragons, but two wyrvens.  With a sixth level talking demon dog.  And they’re looking for ‘Mai Ling’ too, because they have a job for her.  Life gets more interesting when it turns out that May is a dragon’s mate.  Dragon mates are rare and not destined for a specific dragon, just the dragon that claims her, which Gabriele, wyrven of the Silver Dragons, does.  Cyrene gets jealous that May is a dragon mate and she isn’t.  (Cyrene’s strong tendency to childish behavior really got on my nerves at times.)  Dragon mates are not injured by dragon fire.  Good thing, because when Gabriel and May hit the sheets back at her hotel, they accidentally set it on fire.

With May’s promise to retrieve the phylactery of the Silver Dragons that was stolen by a Black Dragon, Drake, Gabriel, and Aisling help create a diversion so May can return the box with the quintessence.  Then Gabriel sends her to his estate in England to get her away from the thief takers.  To make things even more confusing, May has to steal another artifact for a man who is blackmailing Cyrene with video of her and other naiads for blowing up ships and helicopters in Nova Scotia to stop seal hunters.  The threat of naiads being tried in mortal courts is a big one.  So May now has two jobs plus Magoth and a dragon mate.  Let’s not forget the thief takers and ruling council after her, Gabriel’s Black dragon foe blaming her crimes she didn’t commit and to make things complete, her sister Cyrene is kidnapped by a corrupt thief taker.

There’s a clever confrontation with Dr. Kostich and the ruling council, an even better scene when retrieving of the precious phylactery from the secure vault guarded by imps practicing for a production of the Wizard of Oz as seen from the point of view of the munchkins.  (I’m assuming Ms. MacAlister is a fan of Monty Python and Blackadder – and possibly Craig Shaw Gardner’s Cineverse.)  A wonderful bit of insane humor.

The showdown has May, Magoth and Gabriel in a face off over the phylactery.  May chooses to save the Silver Dragons and damn herself – or does she?  The story of what happens next is in Up In Smoke, Book 2 of the Silver Dragons.

The story and the urban fantasy world of the Playing With Fire is an interesting one.  The plot is enjoyable and so are the characters – though Cyrene does grate on me.  Pacing is fast.  It would have been easier to follow had I read the Aisling Grey novels first, but a bit of patience and you’ll find your way.  There are a lot of characters to track, and the similarity of some names makes a couple of them confusing, but overall, it was quite well done.  An interesting mix of action, intrigue, romance, magic, and humor.  Book 2, Up in Smoke, has been moved to the top of the TBR pile after I finish Mayhem in High Heels and several other books.

My Grade: B+


Who would enjoy this book:
Fans of Christine Warren, Shelly Laurenston, and Jim Butcher’s who also like romance.  The rating would be PG-17.

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