Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Fatal Flame
The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye is the third, and final, book in her historical mystery series set in 1840s New York City starring reluctant police detective Timothy Wilde.  I listened to the first two books in this series on audio and became obsessed.  I loved the history, I loved the vernacular slang dialogue, I loved the characters, I loved the mysteries and I loved the narrator, Steven Boyer.  When I heard that The Fatal Flame was coming I drove my audiobook buyers at work fairly nuts over it.  For months - no audio version listed anywhere.  Wendy took to stalking the Interwebs, hoping for a morsel of news, and finally!  Finally!  Audiobook version announced.  Except......

THEY SWITCHED NARRATORS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Look, I'm sure Kirby Heyborne is a decent bloke, but he's not Steven Boyer, who at this point I began to obsess over.  But I couldn't just drop this final book - so, I ditched audio and read it like a chump.  And I loved every minute of it.

This time out, "bright young copper star" Timothy Wilde finds himself embroiled in his least favorite pastime - politics.  The odious alderman, Robert Symmes, wants Timothy's reprobate brother, Valentine, to clean up a little mess.  There's a radical suffragette, a former worker at one of Symmes' sweatshops, who is threatening to burn his various real estate holdings to the ground.  Long story short, Valentine is appalled with Symmes' potential "reward" for handling this business, and loathing the man anyway, decides to throw his hat into the upcoming election.  The Democrats are already splintered into two factions, Valentine going up against Symmes could lead to the city tearing itself apart.

When Symmes' suffragette appears to be making good on her threats, it's up to Timothy to ferret her out.  All of this complicated by his brother's campaign, and unrequited love, Mercy Underhill, turning up in New York again, having been living in London for the last couple of years. 

This book can probably be read as a stand-alone but I wouldn't recommend it.  At this point the trilogy has really built itself one on top of the other, and this installment especially shows it.  Timothy loathes Symmes for a lot of reasons (well, the man did want to kill him in the last book - so the animosity is sort of understandable), but finds himself backed into a corner helping him since he very well cannot sit idly by while an arsonist torches the city.  Also the character development has been increasingly getting deeper with each installment.  Valentine's guilt, his various romantic entanglements, Timothy's love/hate relationship with his brother, his very real fear of fire, and his completely jacked up feelings for Mercy, not to mention his relationship with Bird Daly (an orphan waif he rescued in book one) and his landlady, Elena, whom he is sharing a sexual relationship with.

There are a lot of things about this series that recommends itself to romance readers.  For one thing, the history is outstanding.  If you like historical romance but have been whining displeased with the increased amount of wallpaper, this is your kind of series.  Also, despite the unpalatable morphine addiction, Valentine is pretty much textbook rake-slash-wounded hero material.  And Timothy?  Timothy is your Beta hero with some rough Alpha edges (he can hold his own in a street fight) pining away for an unrequited love.  Really, it's fantastic.

Where this series may stumble for romance readers?  Well, it's dark.  And I mean....dark.  The first book is about sexually exploited children.  The second book is about free blacks getting kidnapped in the north and sent south, as supposed "escaped" slaves.  Compared to those previous two books, this one is almost like a Sunday walk in the park, with bitter men bemoaning working women, seamstresses working in appalling conditions, and violence against women.  While sex trafficking, and sexual assault, plays heavily in this story, all of it takes place off-page.  That said, pretty much all of Faye's conflicts have been textbook examples of why trigger warnings exist.

I'm glad I listened to the first two in this series on audio, because I'm the sort who can have a hard time with period language.  I need to get an "ear" for it.  Faye employs a lot of period slang, also known as "flash."  One of the reasons Timothy is so good as a police detective is that having been raised, in large part, by his brother - he can speak and understand "flash."  It's a different way of communicating, that's for sure - but having now been immersed in it for two previous books, this final third installment flowed for me.

I went through this entire book hoping, praying, that Faye would have a change of heart and not end this series as a trilogy.  But the epilogue kind of kills that dream.  I will say that I think she's done the right thing by giving readers closure, and while the romance reader in me was somewhat disappointed (I like pretty endings - and no I won't apologize for that), I think the author ends the series well, the way she has to end it.  She doesn't pull any punches, but she also doesn't pull anything out of left field that doesn't make sense.  Where her characters end up is where they should end up - which, at the end of the day, is all I ever want as a reader.

I have loved these books.  I loved the Steven Boyer audiobooks and I loved reading this final installment (like a chump).  If you love historicals and can deal with dark these are the real deal.  I haven't been this excited about a series in a long, long time and now *sigh* it's all over. 

Final Grade = A


A Library Girl said...

I'm going through similar narrator anguish, although in my case my preferred narrator was the one the publisher switched to, but the version of the first book using that narrator doesn't seem to be available via Audible or Overdrive (I even talked to my library's Acquisitions folks about it). Thank goodness for paper books/e-books.

azteclady said...

How many A books you've read this year, Ms Wendy? (I hope this signals the final nail in the awful slump's coffin, by the way)

I confess that, despite the A, I don't think I'm in a place where I could try these books, particularly knowing there's no HEA--or at least, not a romance genre style HEA.

Also, welcome back!

Wendy said...

Library Girl: Seriously, the LAST book in the series and we get a narrator switch. I was not a happy camper.

AL: A lot, for me. But don't worry, I'm still as cranky as ever. Also "read" on this trip? An absurd book that ended up being a B- and two DNFs. I seem to have two speeds this year - 1) I LOVE IT! SQUEE!!!! and 2) Meh. Can't be bothered.

This series sort of, kind of, ends "well." I was happy with where the secondary characters ended up. Our hero? Not so much. Although his ending "fits" (I thought) and does make sense given the big picture story arc of a three-book trilogy. But yeah, it's not Sunshine Happy Puppy Dogs and Rainbows.

azteclady said...

I'm very intrigued, because I know you are a tough reader to please, so when you do love a book, I'm always raring to go--but all those triggers? I don't think I'm in a mental place where I can handle them.

I'm still putting these in my wish list--one of these days *shaking fist* the blasted slump will be over!

Kate Sherwood said...

I'm not familiar with the series, but I just so happen to have this month's Audible credit sitting there, staring at me... So I'm going to give the first book a try!

Sounds intriguing!

nath said...

So glad you enjoyed it so much. I don't understand though why they would change narrator on the last book?! I mean, seriously? It's like changing cover artist or something. Good thing you could read it :)

I was all in trying out the first book... but dark? Yeah, I don't always handle it well :(

Wendy said...

Kate: I hope you enjoy it! The first book won an Edgar Award, and I think Stephen Boyer did a dynamite job narrating.

Nath: And the first book is by far the darkest of the three. It's a "bad things happen to kids" plot - which is a non-starter for some readers.