Book Review

Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost

B

Title: Once Burned
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Publication Info: Avon 2012
ISBN: 978-0061783203
Genre: Paranormal

Once Burned - Jeaniene Frost

I haven't read vampire novels in a VERY long time. I have been vamped-out, were-d out, and thoroughly exhausted by all the plots that add paranormalness of various flavors. Aside from the occasional YA paranormal (such as this month's book club selection) I haven't read a paranormal romance in months, possibly.

I'm not sure why I made the exception for this one. I was designing the ad for it and the tagline, about a woman who can control electricity and a vampire who can control fire, caught my attention. We hosted a giveaway with a firepit, so I had press materials about the book in my inbox. Then I saw a few positive tweets about it, and then I read the sample, and boom – it was “leave me alone, it's electric vampire time.” I was honestly very surprised – my paraxhaustion was pretty entrenched.

This book is the start of a new series by Jeaniene Frost. I really liked book 1 of the Vampire Huntress series, and I usually like Frost's heroines. The heroine in this case, Laila, was part of the reason I kept reading.

She tells the story in first person, and there's layers of dialogue that could have easily become annoying but instead were very entertaining. Laila touched a downed wire when she was 13, and was left with a scar from her ear to her wrist, an abundance of electrical energy in her body (which means she can't touch anybody without zapping them royally) and psychometry (which means that when she touches someone, she sees their worst sin, the thing they are most ashamed of, while also zapping them with a taser's worth of electrical charge).

That alone would make her seem the most specially special electric snowflake, but she's pretty miserable. Strong, smart aware of her limits, and thus miserable. She can't touch anyone without hurting or killing them, or reliving some fucked up memories that aren't her own. She's also estranged from her family for a host of reasons that are revealed during the course of the story.

She has, in fact, run off and joined the circus. In the circus, she does gymnastics and stunts with a dwarf named Marty, who has some special powers of his own, and her hiding-in-plain-sight strategy works very well because Marty can look out for her, she can make money enough to survive, and if anyone starts wondering what's up with that weird chick with the gloves on, the answer is either 'circus people!' or 'who cares -they've moved on to the next town anyway.'

The action begins when Laila is kidnapped by some nasty vampire dudes who grab her off her trampoline (seriously, bouncing along in the backyard, thinking you're safe, and vampires show up. Really, what is the world coming to?) because they want her to touch some stuff and do her brain painful magic to mess up some vampire named Vlad.

Vlad, once she does her psychic derring-do, can sense her presence and hear her thoughts, and though Laila isn't sure if the vampires she knows are better than the vampire she doesn't, she's pretty sure that the ones who kidnapped her are eager to harm or kill her, or harm and kill others while she's watching. So Vlad comes to help her, because his derring-do is more bad ass than most do-derring, and takes her away to his exceptionally awesome palatial estate in Romania.

The plot of the book focuses mainly on
1. Who's trying to kill Vlad
2. Who wants to use Laila as a tool to kill Vlad
3. How will Laila resist Vlad, as he's pretty sure the wants to enjoy their time together, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Vlad sees Laila as a tool, but there's some unique twists in how they use one another. Vlad can touch Laila without pain, because his power to control fire means that he doesn't burn. So her electricity doesn't fry him too much, and what's impossible to endure for someone else is like a momentary pinch for him. Vlad needs Laila's abilities to find out who is after him, but since they're also trying to kidnap and possibly kill Laila, too, it's in her best interests to help him out. Plus he's hot and, be ye warned, Laila's loins react to Vlad quite a lot.

Vlad can also hear Laila's thoughts, so she has conversations aloud with him, but she also deals with him listening to her thoughts as she narrates the story. She can't read his mind, but he can listen to her thoughts like she's a walking talk-radio station. That's the layered dialogue I mentioned – it could have been really annoying, but I found it rather funny, especially when characters from Frost's other series show up and Bones gives Laila a hint on how to jam the transmission of her thoughts.

Laila, thankfully, was a narrator I really enjoyed, especially her sarcasm and sense of humor. This is a scene when the kidnapping vampires who violated the bouncing sanctity of her trampoline are forcing her to find Vlad using objects he's dealt with (that's putting it mildly) and she's talking to Vlad psychically without the four kidnapping vampires knowing it:

“Are they with you now?”

I couldn't see them at the moment, but I knew Jackal, Twitchy, Pervert, and Psycho were still clustered around me.

Yeah. They wouldn't leave me alone this time.

“Good.”

If I didn't know the others could hear me, I would've let out an audible scoff. Vlad could at least pretend to care that my neck was in danger of becoming a Capri Sun.


Later, Vlad says:

“You're still afraid of me,” he stated. “Good.”

“You get off on people being afraid of you?” Was he some sort of insecure undead killer? Great, then I could look forward to him scaring the shit out of me on a regular basis just to make himself feel better.


A few warnings: this book is rather violent. There are memories of Vlad doing fiery things to people, there are memories that Laila must face when she touches people, and there are things she's witnessed that are pretty gruesome. If violence isn't one of your favorite things, this may not make you happy, but even as squeamish as I am with the innocent getting harmed, I could tolerate it. If on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is “someone gets a paper cut” and 5 is “kids are eaten by the villain,” this is probably a 2.5 – 3.

The violence and the battles within the story led to one of the weaker parts of the story as a whole. First, when Laila deals with her estranged family, the scenes are more awkward and less empathetic for the reader. I didn't have much reason why I should care about her dad and her sister, despite there being some emotional scenes between them. I was told how she felt rather than having seen any peeks of emotion earlier whenever her family might have been mentioned. There was no build or hint of emotion that she felt for them, so when they showed up and she had to deal with them, I didn't have enough empathy or understanding of their relationships or of Laila's true feelings about her family to understand the alleged impact of their encounters.

In addition, there was not enough grief. Laila's grief for characters she meets in the story and professes to care about is momentary. She doesn't maintain any real expression of loss – she just pushes it aside. She experiences horrible feelings unwillingly when she sees the secrets of the people she touches, but when there's actual difficult feelings of her own, she pushes them away and doesn't deal with them at all. It makes sense in context and I understood why, but since the story is being told from her point of view, it's less satisfying as well. I wanted to experience her genuine feelings of grief, loss, or despair, even for a few moments, because until then, she/the reader had only dealt with the horribleness of other people (who often end up dead so there's some  moral payoff). I wanted her to have the balance of ownership of all the bad feelings that were her own as well as all the unexpected good feelings she was experiencing with Vlad.

Touch is a major theme in the book, both comforting and necessary touches, and the touch of violence and harm. When Vlad or Laila lay their hands on anyone, big huge terrible things can happen, but when they touch each other, they neutralize one another with intimacy that neither is particularly comfortable with.

The way in which Laila's narration reveals the plot, herself, her history, her abilities and her motivations is done in small pieces, step by step in an almost quick-breathed narration. That serves as a contrast to the fact that Laila's abilities mean she can see someone's present, their past, or their future in huge swaths of images that are confusing. Her own story the reader learns in pieces, and the plotting and pace made it difficult to stop turning pages.

The story does not have a neatly-tied up happy ever after ending, as it is the first book of the series. Enough of the Big Bad present in this novel is dealt with that there's momentary closure, and I presume the relationship between Vlad and Laila will continue to develop over the coming books, but the foundation is solid, and the characters are memorable. The strength of Laila's character and the mirroring of abilities and the way that the power of touch appeared in multiple meanings kept me reading despite my mental exhaustion of all things vampire. This might be one of the last vampire books I'll read, but it was certainly one I enjoyed very much.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Grace says:

    The description of Laila reminds me of the comic book character Rogue whose touch was also potentially fatal and who could absorb memories via touch.  A friend of mine is a huge Rogue fan.  I’ll have to give her a heads-up on this book.

  2. 2
    shawnyj says:

    I read it this weekend too. I love Jeaniene Frost, the Night Huntress books are frequent re-reads for me. I enjoyed Night Prince, and while I understand that she’s setting up a new series, so not everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat bow at the end of the book, I felt the plot could have been tightened up a bit. I agree that the estranged family subplot was weak. Maybe they get developed more in future installments, but I didn’t find they added anything to the current book. I’ll keep an eye out for the next one, but I don’t think Vlad and Laila will replace Cat and Bones as my preferred Frost duo.

  3. 3
    Scrin says:

    Yeah, it made me think of Rogue, too.

    Also, Sarah, have you ever tried the Vampire Files by P.N. Elrod?

    They’re older now—from the early 90s—and I found them pretty refreshingly retro. Guy’s a vampire, and he’s strong and fast, sure, but not “Kill a whole roomful of people before they see me” strong and fast. He heals from wounds, but still feels pain (and described getting shot in the head as one of the weirder things that’d happened to him in his life). And the fact that he isn’t centuries-old and, really, he’s a fairly normal guy did a lot, too.

    I loved it when he was confronted with a pair of “vampire hunters” and he told the more reasonable of the two, “Look, it’s pretty much a medical condition. I have some rules about diet and exerting myself, and I’m trying to have a normal life in those rules. You wouldn’t shoot a kid for having polio, would you?”

  4. 4
    LauraN says:

    I really enjoy the Night Huntress novels, and I’m excited about this new series . . . but I’m tempted to wait to read this one until there are more published because Frost tends to be very cliff-hangy.  I mean, look at the first Night Huntress novel.  Bones and Kat weren’t even together at the end!  Fortunately, I didn’t hear about the series until there were several books already published, so my waiting and mental anguish were short lived.  Do I dare read as Frost publishes this time?  I haven’t yet decided.

  5. 5
    infinitieh says:

    I bought this book for the Paul Marron cover (long hair and a beard!) but I may wait until the next book is out before reading this one.

  6. 6
    DesLivres says:

    I read it, but found it very shrug-worthy. The characters didn’t really do it for me.

  7. 7
    JW Ashley says:

    My co-blogger just reviewed this book too, and, like you, her biggest and first reaction was surprise. She has been in a short of reading draught lately—not really enjoying (and something not finishing) the books she picks up. But she really enjoyed this book and gave it a positive rating, too. Brava, Ms. Frost. :)

  8. 8
    chantalhab says:

    I really liked this book – and bought it based on the ad here! Cat and Bones are still my favourite Frost combo but Vlad and Leila were good too. I guess I was dissappointed with the ending? It was an amusing book for sure – I loved the vampires reactions to Laila keeping them out of her thoughts!

  9. 9
    Patrice says:

    I also enjoyed it also. I felt a bit of a let down that Vlad wasn’t more…he has always been one of my favorite secondary characters and I probably had too high expectations. lol Maybe it was the fact it is not written from Vlad’s point of view. I agree Laila’s family sub-plot seemed weaker, but I honestly didn’t care about her family. They were annoying and for me only served as a plot device to show how Vlad cared enough about Laila to eliminate them as potential pawns, that part worked. I didn’t find her reactions to her own feelings of grief or intimacy too shallow or brief. Maybe because I felt she was so very desensitized to the world because of her “powers” it seemed believable to me that she would not spend much time (yet) allowing herself to experience grief or horror intensely. I always find Frost’s the pacing a page-turner. In fact I burn through her stories and will be going back to savor Once Burned again for sure! But that’s one of the reasons I enjoy Jeaninne Frost so much. She is one of my favorites.

  10. 10
    Bnbsrose says:

    I’d decided not to continue with Frost’s other series after the first one because, yes, WAY too many pnr/vampires in my life. Now that I’ve kicked Queen Betsy and the BDB to the curb, I might just have room for another vampire in my life. Thanks for the review Sarah.

  11. 11
    Phaenarete says:

    “Leave me alone, it’s electric vampire time.” YES. Love the Rogue comments—I explained this book to my fan-boy husband as “a mash-up of X-Men and Anne Rice, with a bit of ‘Supernatural.’ ” I have to say, once again I agree with you Sarah—usually the “rules” of the given paranormal scenario, in this case all the psychic whoosey-whatsey, can get all tripped up on itself in this genre, but Frost does it seamlessly. I never had to ask myself, did she say that out loud, or think it? It just worked, and I had to turn the page…

  12. 12
    Sarah says:

    I’m reading it now, and REALLY liking it, but I haven’t read a growned-up vampire novel in a LONG time (or so it feels) so I’m not really suffering from the ‘paraxhaustion ’ (which I love, because it sounds like some kind of flavor infectious disease :D)… Seriously, though, I love Jeaniene, and I love that the series has strong UF leanings in parts than straight PNR… it means there’s plenty of heat, but interesting storylines and… OK, who am I kidding, I just love Bones. And Vlad. So I’m excited :D

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