Bonus excerpt of Killbox at the end
Ann Aguirre has been on my auto-buy list ever since her first Sirantha Jax novel came out (Grimspace). Hell Fire is a sequel to Blue Diablo, a very well written fantasy featuring Corinne Solomon. Corinne is a woman who doesn't control magic, yet she can read the history or recent history of an item like a button or piece of jewelry. These items usually give her a vision of a scene of the owner's life or event. Usually this causes her burns on the palms of her hands, leaving her scarred. She has a history with a man named Chance, who has extraordinary good luck, so extraordinary that bad things happen to someone close to him (to balance things out), this person used to be Corinne until she wised up and broke things off with him.
Hell Fire is the story of Chance keeping a promise to Corinne - that promise was to use his extraordinary good luck to find the killers of her mother, and bring some sort of justice to them. This was part of a deal where Corinne promised to use her gift to help find Chance's mother (Blue Diablo's story). In the previous book, things were left up in the air about whether these two might continue their rather angsty relationship or part ways. Compounding the issue is a man named Jesse, Corinne's new mentor in all things gifted, who is in love with Corinne; Corinne might be in love with him too, there's definitely some feelings there that she has to sort out.
It isn't necessary to read Blue Diablo to be able to enjoy Hell Fire, but it will definitely add to the whole reading experience. There are cameos by characters met in Blue Diablo. In case you have read Blue Diablo and are hoping to see more of ALL the characters here are the returning characters:
- Corrinne (of course, it's first person, and she IS the main storyline here)
- Chance - the luckiest man in the world (maybe)
- Butch - the weirdly intelligent, yet speech-challenged chihuahua, complete with spike collar (LOVE this dog!)
- Jesse the sheriff empath
- Chuch - ex-arms dealer cum family man with magical know-how
- Eva - Chuch's wife, a woman with mad forgery skills
- Booke - mysterious English man, possibly a shut-in
- Sandra - almost Stepford-like Bed n Breakfast owner
- Shannon - goth teen with attitude and blue tipped hair
- Sheriff Robinson - Good ol' boy
- Ruth - one of Corinne's foster mothers
- Dale - The hippie of the town and news reporter
- Kilmer - the town that time forgot, and its assorted strange townspeople
Hell Fire's plot, storyline, sub-plots and narration were all engaging and pulled me along for a ride of a story. Ann Aguirre does a great job with dialogue of characters. Each of the book's characters seem to have a unique voice. Shannon is very believable as a teenager, the sheriff sounded just like you would imagine a smalltime, suspicious sheriff to sound, and Sandra the owner of the bread 'n' breakfast sounded properly and mildly snotty. Ruth's mannerisms and dialogue was fun, reminding me of some of the energetic elderly ladies that I've always been in awe of (for their energy). Corinne's narrative was peppered throughout with zingers about other characters.
HOWEVER! Once in a while, Corinne would come up with a word in her narrative that yanked me out of the story - like cynosure. I had to look this word up. Now, I don't consider my self to be a super-brain, yet I'm not illiterate either. I've done a lot of crossword puzzles, and crossword puzzles almost have a dialect of their own (aka "crosswordese" = e're, o'er, din, elan, era, tern, etc) so I do know a lot of words that are a part of the English language, and yet are not used on a daily basis in everyday conversations....like "cynosure", abstraction, etc. Not a big deal, but enough for it to be at the back of my mind (thinking, who talks like this? professors). Anyway - small potatos compared to the rest of the book which was pretty kick-ass.
Kilmer is a creepy little town, with little progress - no internet, no fast-food chains, go growth.... The townspeople that Corinne comes across in the first half of the book are seriously creepy - in a small town, no one's stirring after dark way. Chills and Goosebumps! Then there's the forest - with a heavy atmosphere of it's own. Some seriously good creepiness in the story. It reads like a bigger and better version of one of those old'fashined gothic mysteries...bigger and better! Ms Aguirre gives us plenty of descriptions that add to the build up of creepy/scary from the moment Corinne and Chance drive down the tree-lined street that leads to the town:
- "The whorls on the bark resembled demonic sigils in the wicked half-light, and the long, skeletal limbs stirred in the breeze in a way I simply couldn't like." (describing the trees on the outskirts of town)
- "In the twilight, the town looked so quiet, almost peaceful, but to me, it hid a fetid air. Corruption fed in the stillness, like a pretty corpse that, when split open, spilled out a host of maggots." (describing the feel of the town)
- "Spanish moss hung like spiderwebs, making the woods look even more foreboding."
Ann Aguirre has a way with words that gives a real feel of the place, even down to what it might smell like.
Then there's the relationship angst. It didn't bother me in Blue Diablo. It doesn't get to me in the Sirantha Jax novels - it fits, and is well blended into those novels. HOWEVER! It did start to feel a bit repetitive to me, the sheer number of times that Corinne mentioned that they would be better off without each other, there were reasons why things didn't work out between them, things would probably never work out between them, they were both so stubborn, he didn't open up, she didn't open up..... I understand that Corinne's character was working through her issues throughout the book, in the middle of an investigations, stewing over relationship problems while she's trying to work out what really happened to her mom all those years ago. A lot of us do this in real life, just stew over things day in and day out; and that's what it felt like here. I know that a lot of people enjoy this, but I didn't, not in this particular case. I would have understood that Corinne was working her way towards her decision without all the (itemized) mentions throughout the book. It's possible that the author was doing this to show Corinne convincing herself why she could or couldn't be with Chance. For me, this detracted from the overall story, and I hate to admit this but a few times I actually rolled my eyes - in a kind of "here we go again" way. It's not the angst itself that bothered me, but the number of times that it was brought up. On the other hand, I have to admit that even though I thought there were too many mentions of "this can't work out", the many variations she was able to use were inspired.
The rest of Hell Fire was excellent for me. The build up of the creepy, thing's aren't right here atmosphere, the piling up of events and accidents, with the difficulties of Corinne and Chance finding out any concrete facts, the almost impossibility of them to get in touch with the outside world, all added to the deliciously creepy, scary, dangerous feel of the novel. The ending - the showdown was bitter and much needed by Corinne. There is a bittersweet feel to the ending of the book, and Corinne has made another friend and put some old ghosts to rest. Corinne also finds out a little more of what she was supposed to be able to do.
Overall - even though I had a trouble with the angst and some "crosswordese" language, this was an excellent continuation of Corinne Solomon's story. I am looking forward to other books about Corinne, and hope to see (rather, to READ) more of her friends.