Book Review

A Hidden Fire: Elemental Mysteries Book 1 by Elizabeth Hunter


Title: A Hidden Fire
Author: Elizabeth Hunter
Publication Info: Elizabeth Hunter 2011
ISBN: 978-1475049190
Genre: Paranormal

A Hidden Fire - a bare chested dude with library stacks in the background.

I received an email about this book from Kate who wrote:

I found this series by accident. I glommed. I felt compelled to review it, so that someone else would read it and love it too. It is the “Elemental Mysteries” series of 4 books by Elizabeth Hunter. It is REALLY good. Seriously. I have no dog in this hunt, no ax to grind, no one paid me, I just have to find someone else to share it with. Here is my review of sorts:

The Lost Weekend

Mr. GG has been out on a fire detail for a while, so it’s just me and the cat keeping the home fires (heh) burning. Mostly we’ve been eating (and the vet says the cat weighs 18 pounds and must lose a half pound a month to get to his goal weight. Do I have to do Weightwatchers for Cats? How many points is kitty kibble?). And I have been reading a lot, so the cat keeps me company as I loll about. Last week I read all my favorite new releases – the Meljean Brooks, the G. A. Aiken, the new J. D. Robb. As the weekend crept up on me, I considered downloading the new S. M. Stirling or Julie Garwood to my Kindle. But the price was outrageous for those two – and you have to draw the line somewhere. So I went searching for free Kindle downloads and on a whim ordered “A Hidden Fire“, by Elizabeth Hunter. Whoa! I think I started that one in the evening, and I finished it at some ungodly hour of the morning. Before I fell asleep, I ordered the next in the series of 4 books. I HAD TO.

Frankly, I am awfully tired of vampires. I mean, I will still read the next J. D. Ward book when it comes out, but I am maxed out on tortured heroes, blood, sex and eternal life. But. But, Elizabeth Hunter goes where no world builder has gone before. Her vamps are…. People. Some likeable, some despicable, some in between, and some are your basic nutjobs, but they are all unique and fascinating and they interact with humans. These vamps have the whole range of emotions: especially humor, joy, regret – and are capable of love. They are not brooding Transylvanians, they are from all the classic cultures, Tibetan, Persian, Ethiopian, Greek, Roman, et al. The hero, Giovanni Vecchio, is a Renaissance scholar copying an ancient book for a friend. Which means he has to go to the university library at night. And B, the heroine, is the librarian. Yes, that’s right! The Heroine is a Librarian, woohoo, yippee, about time! She’s human. She’s smart. She excels at research. She wears Doc Martins.

This is not a fast moving story. There are lots of relationships to explore – and it takes forever to get to the Big Reveal. And after the Big Reveal, there is no HEA. Everyone has a story. And a backstory. But these characters grow on you. You care about everybody. And there are mysterious manuscripts, missing people, and puzzles to research. And though this book doesn’t end up HEA, it does finish with some Ever After, and a promise of more. You won’t get to a cliff hanger and pitch a fit or the Kindle at the wall. You’ll do what I did, and immediately download the next book.

This free book was the kind of story that you savor, and if Mr. GG had been around, I might have taken the time to have regular meals, do laundry, run errands, etc. And I would have savored. But it was just me and the cat. I binged. I binged on this book, bought the next, binged on that one, binged more, and finally bought the fourth and final in this series. I read nonstop, folks. Then I googled Ms. Hunter to find out if she had anything else I could devour. And right now I am having severe withdrawal. If I don’t reread these books right away, I am probably going to have to go find some vintage Linda Howard, or Jennifer Crusie, or Susan Elizabeth Phillips to ease me into a gentle transition.

I am a voracious and not particularly discriminating reader. I will read “The Sheik’s Pregnesiac Virgin Mistress”, and then a biography of Amelia Earhart, or a DIY mosaic book. But I am here to tell ya, this “Elemental Mysteries” series by Elizabeth Hunter is special. If you ever read the Williamsburg novels by Elswyth Thane – it is sorta like that. Or maybe like the first time you read the Dragonrider books by Anne McCaffery. Or if you read the “Novels of the Change” series by S. M. Stirling, kinda like that. But not.

Since I have already raved about this series to the cat (who licked his butt and then went and yowled by his food bowl) I had to tell someone who would care, that I found this terrific series. I am not a shill, never heard of Ms. Hunter before this weekend, and just want somebody else to metaphorically (or actually, for that matter), hop up and down, do the happy dance, and love these books as much as I do.

Now come on, how was I not going to read this book after that email?!

Unfortunately for me, I had half of Kate's reaction. I was drawn in and absorbed into the story, as slow and quiet as it was. I did not want to stop reading; I had to find out what happened. I re-read some scenes where a major turn or plot development or reveal took place to savor them repeatedly. This book is compelling.

There's Giovanni,  a mysterious hero (more on that in a separate entry), a level-headed, funny, acerbic and intelligent heroine named Beatrice, and curious, fantastical situations located in familiar settings, in this case, a university library. Giovanni is a rare books dealer and a vampire who is transcribing a document in the university library, supervised by the librarian in the rare books area, Beatrice. 

I liked Beatrice, who was sarcastic, brave, and very self-assured. She had a lot of determination, including the wisdom to be guarded about losing herself in her attraction to Giovanni. I had mixed feelings about Giovanni, especially when he was controlling and withholding information from Beatrice long after she'd demonstrated, I thought, that she was trustworthy. 

One thing that detracted from my enjoyment were all the signs of sub-par editing. There is always a character who will cock his or her head.  Sometimes everyone in the scene gets a turn to cock their head. One right after another. They cocked heads, eyebrows, sometimes both – it was so ubiquitous that it became distracting. For a book with no sex it in, there sure was a lot of cock.

There was also a lot of dispatches from the Departments of Telling, Awkward and Clunky Writing.

He frowned as he tried to think of the last person who had asked him personal questions.  For some reason, he liked the feeling of sharing his likes and dislikes with her. 

Wonder what reason THAT could be?

“I’m sure your grandparents were happy you had it,” he said, suddenly wishing he could ease the memory of the lonely child he saw behind her eyes. 

I didn't cock my head, but I did roll my eyes.

Even little errors were distracting to me, like, “Why is that comma there? Does that comma need to be there?”

She walked to the center of the room to empty the plastic container from the dehumidifier that pulled excess water from the thick, South Texas air, so it wouldn’t damage the delicate residents of the manuscript room.

There doesn't need to be a comma after “thick,” right? Between the stray commas and the cocking of things, I was increasingly distracted by the errors and when the action picked up in speed, so did the number of errors and the number of times I was told something by the narration instead of witnessing a character's experience.

Even things I would have thought were a bigger deal, like Beatrice discovering Giovanni is a vampire, were brushed off and the results told to me:

Every now and then, she had wondered why she had so easily accepted her strange new reality.  The more she thought about it, the more Beatrice decided that the idea of vampires just didn’t seem that far-fetched.  She could accept there were things in the world that science didn’t understand yet, and who was to say that some of those things didn’t have fangs and need to survive by drinking human blood?

Look, I thought Beatrice and Giovanni were plenty interesting, but I had a hard time accepting that Beatrice wouldn't be bothered in the least by the things she'd learned.  Because the plot moved very carefully, the gaps where characters would develop or process something and didn't do so were very noticeable to me.

Giovanni hides a very big secret. Each vampire has an affinity toward an element, and Giovanni's is fire. He is enormously powerful and feared even by other vampires, and because of that affinity he keeps himself under very tight control to the point where he seems cold and distant from everyone. He has very few individuals in his life and stays isolated from most people. The only reason he's in the library each week is to transcribe a document for an older vampire who requested it of him – and who cares if the work takes months or years, because it's not like he's going anywhere any time soon. Between his home and the library, he has little contact with anyone, so his attraction to Beatrice is alarming for him.

There are some lighthearted characters who contrast with Giovanni's reclusiveness and Beatrice's mixed feelings about him. Carwyn, Giovanni's oldest friend, is a giant goofy vampire from Wales who loves to needle Giovanni, but has his back at every moment. (There is a wrestling scene that I thought was hilarious.) Carwyn also serves as a translator for Giovanni's mannerisms, and isn't above playing matchmaker when he realizes that Beatrice and Giovanni are drawn towards one another:

She caught Carwyn watching them out of the corner of his eye.  He began to scribble on the notebook again.  He’s never married.  She paused for a moment and Carwyn continued writing.  He handed the notebook to her.  Don’t pretend you weren’t curious. 

She glared at him.  I can’t even imagine Professor Frosty dating, she wrote quickly and tossed the notebook at him. 

Then it was Carwyn who couldn’t hold in the snort.  He wrote something in bold letters and underlined it twice.  Opposite.  Of.  Frosty. 

Once the reader fully understands Giovanni, the secrets he hides and the powers he controls as well as the enemies he has to deal with, his reluctance to acknowledge or include Beatrice in his life is understandable, as is Beatrice's own reluctance to continue speaking to him as more weird shit happens in her world. After a long period of discovery, wherein the two main characters get to know one another, and the reader tags along on coffee dates that seem a bit like Giovanni is stalking Beatrice, trips to a Dia de los Muertos festivals with Beatrice, her grandmother and Giovanni, and other scenes that serve to reveal the characters and their backstories, the action begins. A specific enemy who has been teasing Giovanni from the periphery appears just past the midpoint of the novel, and that antagonist drives the rest of the plot until the end of the book.

Because this is a series, when I got to the end – and it's a marginally HFN but not really: no one's dead but no one's joyful either – I had to ask myself whether I wanted to keep reading. I am, alas, a reader who likes her stories in complete units. I don't want to embark on a never-ending series that follows two characters because it is so rare that such series end or even continue well. I've been disappointed and let down horribly by following the same characters for so many books (Anita Blake, I am looking at you) that I have very little interest in doing it again. With romance, I'm reading for the HEA. If there isn't one any time soon, or it's not written yet, I can't muster up much interest or many dollars. Hidden Fires is free – but the sequels are between $4 and $5.

With A Hidden Fire, once I finished it, I needed to know what I was in for if I read more. I need the comfort of reviews of future books to know that I'm not embarking on a reading marathon of futility. From what I can tell, there are a few more marginally happy-for-now (MHFN) endings ahead, or perhaps some that's-all-for-now (TAFN) episodes as future books. I wasn't that drawn and compelled to continue, though I did buy the next book in case I changed my mind. It's in a folder called “Maybe.”

So in reviewing this book, I felt it was equally important to evaluate the book itself (I liked it), while also evaluating whether I want to read the rest of them (I don't think I do). This book is a complete episode, sort of a pilot, if you will, but not the complete story. I liked everyone enough, but am not driven to continue the series. But if you enjoy paranormal mystery series with slow developing romances and some very dry and witty dialogue, you'd like this, so long as the editing doesn't drive you bonkers.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    It sounds good from the emailed review. I’m not into vampire romance but I’ll give it a go.

  2. 2
    Sarah Fogle says:

    I’m on both sides of the fence on this one.

    I enjoyed the story – I really enjoyed the smart heroine. Like others have said – A librarian! The different take on a vamp (gentler, nicer, much more likeable) really drew me in. In my head I compared it to the “Discovery of Witches” book – and I liked this better.

    I really liked it as I was reading it, but even though i have the others on my wishlist, I pass them over for something else. I think because it was an involved and detailed story, it takes a bit more out of me to read. I didn’t really like the ending (I know, it’s only a temporary ending), and even though i read a lot of fantasy, it threw in too much of the wtf’ery I think.

    My inner editing/grammar critic didn’t come out (smiles) but that kind of thing doesn’t usually bug me, either.

    I’ll probably get to the rest of them…the sample of the second really drew me in and re-interested me in the story.


  3. 3
    Martha M says:

    I totally agree with the C+.

    The one reason I bought the second book, after not really liking the first one, was that the sex between them HAD to be explosive. In my mind, after all the sexual tension and build up… oh man, it was going to be great!

    It wasn’t. I literally stopped reading after the sex scene and haven’t read anything since. I’m not going to buy the third and fourth.

    I’m disappointed and done with the series. It has the feeling of a imbalanced mix between very young adult romance, and adult action/adventure/mystery.

    Yea C+… I’d recommend it to anyone that doesn’t put a lot of importance or weight into the sexuality of romance. If someone does (me), don’t read it (I wish I hadn’t).


  4. 4
    PamG says:

    “They cocked heads, eyebrows, sometimes both – it was so ubiquitous that it became distracting. For a book with no sex it in, there sure was a lot of cock.”

    Best.  Critique.  Evah.

  5. 5
    Liz G says:

    Long time lurker, first time poster!  I totally agree with Kate, I also glommed this series.  I specifically say series, as the first book definitely suffers from all of Sarah’s critiques: in need of more editing, definitely a slow pace and a distinct lack of sex.  However, I loved the series as a whole.  The pacing over the course of the entire series could be better, as the last book runs pell mell to the end.  One of those classic, “all these things must happen before the book can end” situations. As someone who values sex in their romance, I was still a bit disappointed with the quality of the sex scenes in these books.  They all feel just a bit too short, pun not intended, or as a passing mention of “insert obligatory sex here.” 

  6. 6
    Ladyv00 says:

    I would have to agree with the original email reviewer and I’m generally fairly picky.  I can’t go near J.R. Ward with a 10 foot pole, or any other pole, her writing bothers me so badly.  As a librarian (and totally tickled by B, although Hunter initially got the ‘librarian’ title wrong since she isn’t an official librarian until she has that spiffy MLS, but I digress…) I’m generally completely turned off by grammatical errors and/or bad editing.  Could the editing have been better? Absolutely, but it truly didn’t overshadow the story for me.  I also generally like books the sexier the better. I felt the relationship building was actually pretty darn good and although I agree the sex scenes could have been a little hawter, by that point I was more engrossed in the story. I was totally sucked in, couldn’t put it down, bought all 4 books plus The Genius and the Muse (also very good in my opinion), and will happily reread probably for years.


  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    Isn’t it funny how a story, despite seeing errors that might ordinarily drive one nuts, can grab you and make you so happy to read it? I’m glad this worked for you – I wish it had worked as well for me!

  8. 8
    Ladyv00 says:

    It IS totally funny! J.R. Ward is a great example – the slang and ph’s and rh’s and whatever other letters she throws in plus the slang…I keep thinking I’ll like it, pick up one of her books, get 20 pages into it and set it back down. Yet millions of people love her writing. Let’s not get started on 50 Shades either. ;)

    I love hearing though why some people did not like, or even were just ‘eh’, about books I liked a lot because it helps, as a librarian, to connect people with awesome books THEY want to read, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

  9. 9
    kara-karina says:

    I’m a huge fan of the series, because to me the relationship, the interaction between people and the portrayal of the vampires felt pretty realistic and very alive, so like Kate I intend to rave about these novels. There is a new book about Corwyn that is coming out soon, and I second the opinion that The Genius and The Muse was a fab read (reminded me of bittersweet Jackie Collins’s books). I’m glad The Elemental Mysteries are slowly getting the attention they deserve :)  YAY!!!

  10. 10
    X says:

    I really loved the first one because Giovanni was such a different hero to begin with – properly academic, fastidious, a bit formal- and in real life I do lust after bookish types but I think they rarely come across well in romance. He becomes a bit more of a typical alpha type after the first book though – damn. Their work is so well described also – the author describes how tedious and rewarding historical research can be, like weeks of searching through old auction catalogues – without massive infodumping.

    And I really liked the slow burn – I cherish books where the characters are friends or work well together before its true love forever. Fated to be mated or love at first sight drives me up the wall unless its done really well because it puts so much strain on physical attraction holding the relationship together – when how they look (or smell for paranormals) is literally all you know about someone its not love yet, no matter how supernaturally powerful the burning lust is. And yep, there is no actual sex in the first book – but the foreplay was pretty hot to my mind.

    Didn’t have problems with the editing – it really is a case of how wrapped up you are in a book i guess! I thought it was the highest quality I’ve come across in an Amazon freebie.

  11. 11
    Cate says:

    I think that comma was necessary. When you have two adjectives in a row, you use a comma, and it seems to me that South Texas is being treated like an adjective that describes the air. And if it’s an adjective, you need the comma. 

    I defer to your judgement on the cocking.

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