Quick, Amanda. Burning Lamp. New York: Jove, 2011. Paperback. +423 pages. $7.99.
Castle, Jayne. Midnight Crystal. New York: Jove, 2010. Paperback. +406 pages. $7.99.
I might call this review Jayne Ann Krentz, part 2. In any case, I'd been looking forward to these two books since I'd picked up Midnight Crystal earlier this week, and today, after completely and utterly bombing a 17th Century Poetry and Prose final, I decided it was about time to settle down with something fun to read and that wasn't going to make me crazy. So I picked up these two wonderful books and read them this afternoon. (Stop looking at me like that. Yes, I realize that I read faster than any human being alive. It's a survival trait among English majors.)
Burning Lamp gets a B. It's definitely above average, and quite a page turner. I didn't want to put it down and sped right through it. It was definitely a worthy follower to Fired Up and I appreciated the way that things were meshing together.
There are two main families competing in the Arcane Society. The Joneses, whose investigative branch, Jones and Jones, does much of the dirty work of policing the psychic community for the Arcane Society, and the Winterses, who often hold themselves outside of the psychic community. The Jones ancester, Sylvester, tried to supplement his psychic power through chemistry and something called the founder's formula, which has the lovely effect of making people who use it go crazy. The Winters ancester, Nicholas, decided dealing with metal and crystals through alchemy would be the way to do and he would destroy the Jones family. A curse goes down through his family, hitting generations here and there, and unless the heir can find the lamp and a woman who can work dreamlight energy (a special form of psychic energy), well, they're screwed.
The Dreamlight Trilogy (Fired Up, Burning Lamp, and Midnight Crystal) all have to do with Winters heirs and their individual searches for the lamp. Burning Lamp brings in some previous characters from other Arcane Society novels who play slightly more than a bit part, and gives a good look at the somewhat seedy underside of Victorian society. It's entertaining and page turning. There were a few places where I felt like the plot jumped ahead without any real logical reason--characters making assumptions that they really didn't have the information to make. Hence the B.
Midnight Crystal, however, gets an A. I'm giving it an A for one particular reason. Krentz's world of Harmony is one of the best exercises in world building I've seen in a romance novel. For those unfamiliar, Harmony is a world colonized by Earth, but which lost contact with the planet not long afterwards. There are alien ruins which put forth psychic energy--everyone on Harmony has some sort of psychic power which they can use through a substance they call amber. But some people on Harmony have an additional power that has been hinted at in books not affiliated with the Arcane Society--but which is the psychic power of the Arcane Society nonetheless. The story itself is fairly straightforward--Winters heir looking for the lamp and the dreamlight reader being a Jones. The plot fairly writes itself. But there is a lot of humor involved.
Part of this humor comes from the world-building. Each book, we discover something new about the alien civilization that once lived on Harmony long before humans arrived and who left lots of psychic ruins. We also learn more about the intricate society Harmony developed in its separation from Earth, including an interesting way to deal with marriages, and a complicated Guild system that operates outside of the government with extraordinary power due to their members' ability to shut down energy storms known as "ghosts." It follows its own rules regarding psychic energy--use too much and you have between an hour and a half hour before you conk out dead asleep to recharge.
But the best humor comes from the dust bunnies.
Well, here. Watch this trailer for one of Krentz's other Harmony novels, Silver Master.
First of all....aren't they CUTE? Second, the dust bunnies aren't only cute. They're also devious little troublemakers who pick out their own people. You don't go to the pet store and get a dust bunny. A dust bunny finds you and decides you belong to it. They're also hunters. When danger comes around, their fur flattens out, their first set of eyes (which are blue) close and their second set open (amber). And they can get mean.
They also have their own distinct personalities. Some like to dress up. Others don't. They like to entertain others. Each of the Harmony books, however, ends on the book's dust bunny doing something hysterical. In the case of Midnight Crystal, Gibson, Marlowe's dust bunny, steals energy bars out of the cookie jar and distributes them to all of his dust bunny friends. Then he takes the wrappers and collects them. Because they're shiny.
How do you not love that?
Perhaps I am a little biased. But the dust bunnies are hilarious, and they alone are worth buying the book. But Midnight Crystal also tied up several loose ends quite neatly, ended up with a great romance, and again, was an absolute page-turner.
I know I've railed against some paranormal books before, most notably Catherine Coulter's KnockOut. Here's the difference. Krentz actively markets her books now as paranormal. If you pick up a book that says it's an Arcane Society novel, you know what you're getting into. There hasn't been a massive change from one series to another. Characters who were quite mundane aren't suddenly showing up as psychics. That's why this works--we expect it, so disbelief is suspended at the beginning of the book, not halfway through. It's why Janet Evanovich can get away with her Between-the-Numbers Stephanie Plum novels--we expect those to be a little kooky (not that the regular Stephanie Plum novels aren't kooky, but these are kooky in a paranormal way).
Anyway, it's getting late. Final grades:
Burning Lamp - B
Midnight Crystal - A
And on to In Too Deep. I can't wait to get started.