Friday, October 3, 2008

Playing With Fire (book) by Katie MacAlister

May is a doppelganger - her "twin," Cyrene, gave up her common sense so that the demon lord Magoth could create a doppelganger for her. Unfortunately, Cyrene didn't realize that part of the deal was that her doppelganger would instantly be Magoth's slave. Against her will, May steals anything Magoth decides will help his cause in taking over the human world. Magoth's latest job for May lands her in some serious trouble, and she soon finds herself having to avoid thief takers who have been charged with bringing her into Otherworld custody. In addition, Cyrene is being blackmailed and her blackmailer has demanded that May steal something for him. As if May doesn't have enough on her plate, she meets Drake, Aisling, Gabriel, and all their respective bodyguards and discovers that she is Gabriel's mate. This should be wonderful news, since this is the first time that May has ever had anything that is all her own and a man who cares for more than her thieving skills. However, May is scared that Magoth will force her to kill Gabriel. Soon, May has even more to fear than just that, since her association with Gabriel puts her in a position where Magoth can force her to obtain something that will give him power over all dragons.

This is the first book of what may turn out to be several in MacAlister's new Silver Dragons series, set in the same world as her Aisling Grey, Guardian, series. If you haven't read any of the books in that series, especially the fourth (and final?) one, this is probably going to be a really confusing book. This book basically picks up where Holy Smokes (the fourth book) left off, as Gabriel, Drake, Aisling and others try to find the phylactery and worry that the dragon Baltic is still around causing problems for everyone. May and Cyrene are new characters (maybe they had walk-on roles somewhere in the Aisling Grey, Guardian, series, but I don't remember them), and MacAlister makes things easier on new readers by having everyone explain things to these new characters, but that doesn't mean this book wouldn't be without its confusing aspects.

With each new book I read by MacAlister (or whatever name she chooses to write under), I tend to like her heroines more and more. I think May might be MacAlister's most mature and accepting heroine yet. While Cyrene indulges in the kind of stupid behavior that allows the plot to get sufficiently complicated, May has to pick up the pieces. Without the interference of others, I'm sure that May could probably have a pretty relaxing and comfortable life. She only steals things because Magoth and others make her (although I think part of her enjoys the adrenaline rush), and the rest of the trouble she has to deal with is all Cyrene's fault. When it comes to Gabriel, May's resistance makes sense. Her main reasons for resisting Gabriel are her fear of what Magoth will do and her belief that it's not actually possible for a doppelganger to be a wyvern's mate, since doppelgangers are basically just made out of shadows. She's not resisting because she thinks Gabriel is too overprotective and gives her too many orders - in fact, although Gabriel makes a point of following her around, he accepts that there are things she must do and lets her do them. If May didn't have Magoth to worry about, this would be a match made in heaven.

Even with May's perfectly reasonable reasons to resist, she and Gabriel end up becoming officially mated pretty quickly. Although I appreciated that I didn't have to deal with a lot of, "No Gabriel, we can never be together!", it kind of bothered me how easily Gabriel was able to convince May that he could handle anything Magoth might throw at him. Neither of them really thought things through very well. I ended up just writing the whole thing off as an example of May's deep vulnerability when it comes to anything that is just about and for her (as opposed to being about her skills as a thief or being for Cyrene).

I thought May's abilities were really interesting. Although Cyrene is a naiad and can therefore control water, May is a doppelganger and lacks any naiad abilities. Instead, she can become invisible by blending in with shadows. She's got a few other tricks up her sleeve, but this particular ability is a pretty nifty one for a thief to have, and May uses it several times throughout the book. It never felt like MacAlister was overusing it, though, and May's abilities don't prevent her from getting into trouble several times throughout the book. They also can't always get her out of trouble - that's where Cyrene and all of May's new friends come in handy.

Although the blurbs on the back of this book mention "humorous fantasy" and "witty paranormal romance" (all in relation to the Aisling Grey, Guardian, books), I'm not sure that's entirely accurate for this book. I agree that this belongs in the fantasy genre, due to all the magic, naiads, demons, and dragons, but I think this book was lighter on the humor than at least the earlier Aisling Grey books. MacAlister didn't go totally serious and dark - Jim the Newfie demon was there, Cyrene was a little silly in the head, and May and Gabriel amusingly give new meaning to the phrase "fiery passion." However, fans of some of MacAlister's earlier humorous romance novels may find this book to be more serious than they expected.

As for the "paranormal romance" blurb, I'm not sure I'd call even the Aisling Grey books paranormal romance. This book and the Aisling Grey books all have romantic aspects. They include a few sex scenes, and the relationships between the main male and female characters are important aspects of the books. However, in each individual book in both series, the fantasy plot, whatever it happens to be, is most important. Playing With Fire doesn't end in a way that will make fans of more traditional romance (happy endings for the lovers) very happy, and blurbs like the one mentioning "paranormal romance" might lead such people to believe that a romantic happy ending is what they will find here. That may not be so for this particular book, but all I can say to such readers is that the series as a whole will probably be worthy of being called a paranormal romance. The individual books in the Aisling Grey series might not have ended happily for Drake and Aisling's relationship, but the series as a whole did, and MacAlister is probably following the same general formula here.

  • Sleeping With the Fishes (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - Fred isn't your average mermaid - she's not blond, she's not buxom, and she has a tendency towards crankiness. Even though she can't swim when she's not in her mermaid form, she works at an aquarium, trying to convince the fish to eat their food. Fred, a marine biologist who goes all fanboy when mermaids are mentioned, and Prince Artur, a merman and the High Prince of the Black Sea, join forces in an attempt to figure out what's causing the high levels of toxins in the local seawater. Of course, the marine biologist and the prince are also interested in seducing Fred. Those who enjoyed May's naiad "sister" and would like something else with humor, romance, an investigation, and a similar writing style might like this book, the first in a series.
  • Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Elena found out that werewolves are real when her boyfriend bit her while in wolf form and turned her into one. Since then, she's worked hard to gain enough control over herself and her abilities so that she can pass as human. She's now living in Toronto, trying to have a pleasant and ordinary relationship with a man who has no idea what she is. However, she's called back to the Pack in order to help out with murderous mutts (the name used for werewolves who aren't affiliated with the Pack), and she's forced to deal with her unresolved issues with her Pack and her feelings for the werewolf who made her what she is. Those who'd like another story with a strong, supernatural female main character, a bit of romance, and action might like this book. A later book in this series, Personal Demon, may be a better read-alike than Bitten, but starting at the beginning of this series will help give readers a better idea of characters' backgrounds and development.
  • Night Pleasures (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - Kyrian is a Dark-Hunter, someone who's given up their soul to the goddess Artemis in order to be able to exact vengeance after death. Part of the price he must pay is that he must continue to fight for Artemis, battling Daimons (a bit like vampires, only their main goal is to consume the souls of their victims). Kyrian meets Amanda after the two are attacked and handcuffed together. Amanda's never been one to believe in the supernatural, but seeing Kyrian fight Daimons shakes her world view up a bit. Along the way, Kyrian and Amanda fall in love, but they're going to have to get Kyrian's soul back from Artemis if they want to have any kind of a life together. Those who'd like another book with supernatural elements, romance, action, a bit of humor, and a love that seems like it might be doomed might like this book, the first of Kenyon's Dark-Hunter books.
  • Doppelganger (book) by Marie Brennan - When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. In order for the witch to gain control over her powers, she must find and kill this doppelganger. Mirage is a fierce bounty hunter whose newest mission takes her into the world of witches. Miryo is a witch who's just failed her initiation test. She sees Mirage and knows she's her doppelganger, but can she bring herself to kill someone who's so much like her in appearance and, contrary to what she's been taught, seems to have a soul? Those who'd like another book with doppelgangers, strong female characters, and action might like this book.


  1. This is interesting. I started Playing with fire, but got annoyed by the sidekick. Maybe I'll give it another try - I loved Bitten. The read alike concept is cool!

  2. If you mean Cyrene, yes, she's definitely annoying. I'd have liked it if she hadn't been in the book, but, since she was the cause of most of the plot complications, there probably wouldn't have been much of a story without her.

    If you liked Bitten, I'd suggest trying Eileen Wilks (start with Tempting Danger) or Patricia Briggs (start with Moon Called) - both those writers have some really wonderful werewolves. If you don't mind a young adult book, there's also Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate. I'd actually consider all of those better read-alikes for Bitten than Playing With Fire.

    Thanks for visiting!