Friday, December 20, 2019

REVIEW: Greenfire (book) by Saranne Dawson

Greenfire is, according to its spine, a "futuristic romance." It's probably more appropriate to call it SFF with romantic aspects.

This review includes major spoilers.


Nazleen is the ruler of the Hamloorian people. Like all Lieges, she is Cerecian: a descendant of Stakezti, a mysterious golden-haired child who had special powers (telepathy, visions of the future, the ability to wield green fire). It was Cerecians who wielded their green fire against the violent Warriors and brought peace to this land. Since then, a female Cerecian Liege has always ruled Hamloor, reluctantly choosing a mate from among the Warriors when it comes time for her to conceive an heir.

Nazleen knows that she will need to choose a mate soon. Her choice will almost certainly be Miklav, the Warrior Chief. He's a Warrior, so she'll never be able to fully trust him, but he seems to be a good man, and he's made some changes to Warrior society that she finds surprising, intriguing, and a little unsettling. However, first she must deal with news that may shift the balance of power more in Miklav's favor: there have been several sightings of aliens, some of whom might be male Cerecians. There have only ever been female Cerecians, and it's uncertain whether these possible male Cerecians are peaceful or as prone to violence as the Warriors.

Love Spell futuristic romances (which weren't necessarily "futuristic") used to be my catnip. If I found one at the library or on a used bookstore shopping trip, I wanted to read it. I figure I've probably owned this particular book for at least 15 or 20 years. I never seemed to be in the mood to read it, but I couldn't bring myself to offload it either. Love Spell nostalgia, I guess.

Sadly, this didn't turn out to be a hidden gem. I don't think I'd have liked it even if I had read it back during the height of my "futuristic romance" reading. The beginning was weighed down by overly complicated and confusing world-building. The story had potential but was generally boring. Even worse, this wasn't a romance. I don't care what the cover art and branding make it look like, it's not a romance.

It's possible to see the bones for a couple potentially decent romance novels in this book. In one, Nazleen and Miklav, two rulers who see each other as political adversaries, work together to investigate a potential threat towards their people and gradually begin to care for each other. In the other, Nazleen grew up believing that Cerecians were only ever female, while Zaktar believed that Cerecians were only ever male. After a disastrous meeting, they tried to patch things up between them for the good of their people, but also because they found themselves drawn to each other.

Two thirds of Greenfire was the first romance. This confused me, because the back of the book indicated that Nazleen and Zaktar were the book's heroine and hero. It was possible that this was somehow a stealth poly romance, but the Cerecian Sisterhood's visions of Miklav being killed in a war didn't seem like a good sign.

I initially figured that Zaktar would show up early on, kill Miklav or somehow cause his death, and then spend the rest of the book trying to get Nazleen to trust him. As pages and pages went by with little more than a single instance of telepathic contact between Nazleen and Zaktar that Nazleen thought might have been a hallucination, I became more unsure of the route this story was going to take. I also found myself thinking that this read far more like SFF with romantic aspects than an actual SFF romance. Although Nazleen and Miklav had sex, Nazleen never truly trusted Miklav and made it clear that he didn't have her heart. Miklav actually seemed more emotionally involved with Nazleen than Nazleen was with him, despite the fact that he had a long-term lover with whom he'd had a child (Hamloorians, and Warriors in particular, rarely had lifelong monogamous relationships).

I disliked Miklav's lust for political power and his controlling behavior. However, at least he had a significant on-page presence and had spent a good deal of time with Nazleen. The same couldn't be said about Zaktar. And yet. (Major spoilers from this point on. MAJOR.)

About two thirds of the way through the book, Zaktar killed Miklav. He could have held back and just stunned him, but instead he deliberately killed him - he wanted Nazleen after having briefly seen her, and he viewed Miklav as his rival. Nazleen tried to kill him in return and ended up miscarrying - yes, she was pregnant and Miklav was the father. Zaktar saved her life by carrying her into the Cerecians' sacred green act which the two later found out was an ancient Cerecian marriage ceremony. So, no matter what Nazleen did, she was unwillingly bound to someone. Nazleen spent most of the Zaktar portion of the book avoiding him, to the point where Zaktar thought he'd end up having to go back to his people alone, but once that "unwittingly married" bit came up, Nazleen's resistance magically evaporated and the two of them had sex in the sacred green fire. The end. Literally the end. The book just stopped right there.

It was bad enough that the book's supposed hero didn't really meet the heroine until the last third of the story, after he'd killed the man she'd chosen as her mate. That ending, on top of everything else, was a slap in the face. On the plus side, now I get to offload this book and free up a little shelf space.

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