Book Review: Fire Baptized by Kenya Wright (Series, #1)
The humans won the supe-human war, and now all supernaturals are confined to caged cities whose bars are made up of every metal that is harmful to supes. They also all have a brand on their forehead letting everyone now immediately what type of supernatural they are–crescent moon for shifter, full moon for vampire, wings for fairy, X for mixbreed, which is what Lanore just happens to be. Lanore is hoping to be the first mixie to graduate from the caged city’s university, and she also works on the side with another mixie, Zulu, to run a mixie civil rights group. The purebloods by and large hate mixies. As if her life wasn’t already complicated enough, one night Lanore witnesses a murder, and the murderer turns out to be a serial killer. Now Lanore is on his list.
I am so glad I accepted this review copy. The branding of supes and caged cities was enough to show me that this is a unique urban fantasy series, but I wasn’t aware that it’s also a heavily African-American culture influenced series, and that just makes it even more unique and fun.
It’s not new to parallel supe civil rights issues with those of minorities, but they often flounder. Wright’s book depicts the complexities eloquently. Making a group within the supes that the supes hate makes it more closely parallel the real world. The addition of the brands on the foreheads also makes the supernatural race immediately identifiable just as race is in the real world by skin color. The caged cities are also a great analogy of inner city life and how much of a trap it can feel like. The fact that Lanore accidentally witnesses a murder on her way home from school is something that can and does happen in the real world.
The other element that I really enjoyed is how Wright brings the African-American religion of Santeria into the mix. She provides multiple perspectives on the religion naturally through the different characters. Lanore doesn’t believe in any religion. MeShack, her ex-boyfriend and roommate, does, and it helps him in his life. And of course the serial killer also believes in Santeria but is going about it the wrong way, as Lanore eventually learns. The book naturally teaches the reader a few things about Santeria, which is often maligned and misunderstood in America. But it does it within the course of the story without ever feeling preachy.
The sex scenes (we all know we partially read urban fantasy for those) were hot and incorporated shifter abilities without ever tipping too far into creepy beastiality land. They were so well-written, I actually found myself blushing a bit to be reading them on the bus (and hoped no one would peak over my shoulder at that moment).
The plot itself is strong through most of the book. The serial killer is genuinely scary, and Lanore doesn’t suddenly morph into some superhero overnight. She maintains her everywoman quality throughout. I wasn’t totally happy with the climax. I didn’t dislike it, but I also think the rest of the book was so well-done that I was expecting something a bit more earth-shattering.
There are two things in the book that knocked it down from loved it to really liked it for me. They both have to do with Zulu. Zulu is a white guy, but his beast form is a black dude with silver wings. I am really not sure what Wright is trying to say with this characterization and plot point. It wasn’t clear when it first happens, and I was still baffled by the choice by the end of the book. In a book that so clearly talks about race, with an author so attuned to the issues innate in race relations, it is clear that this was a conscious choice on her part. But I am still unclear as to why. Hopefully the rest of the books in the series will clear this up for me. My other issue is with how possessive Zulu is of Lanore. He essentially tells her that she’s his whether she likes it or not, and she goes along with it. Why must this theme come up over and over again in urban fantasy and paranormal romance? A man can have supernatural powers and not use them as an excuse to be an abusive douche. I’m just saying. But. This is part of a series, so perhaps these two issues will be addressed in the next book. But for right now, I’m kinda sad that Lanore chose Zulu.
Overall, this is a unique piece of urban fantasy. The tables are turned on the supes with them in caged cities, and the creative use of forehead brands and the existence of mixed-breed supernaturals are used intelligently as a commentary on race relations in the United States. I highly recommend it to urban fantasy fans and am eagerly anticipating reading the next entry in the series myself.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review