REVIEW: Hell Fire

Ann Aguirre
Hell Fire (Corine Soloman #2)
ISBN-10: 0451463242
ISBN-13: 978-0451463241
Urban fantasy
April 6, 2010

*book provided by the publisher

*possible spoilers for previous installment, though none for this book

I’m still a redhead. Before we left Texas, I touched up the roots, and then I had some tawny apricot highlights put in. I guessed that meant I intended to keep this color for a while. Symbolic—I’d made a commitment, at least to my hair.

As a handler, Corine Solomon can touch any object and know its history. It’s too bad she can’t seem to forget her own. With her ex-boyfriend Chance in tow—lending his particularly supernatural brand of luck—Corine journeys back home to Kilmer, Georgia, in order to discover the truth behind her mother’s death and the origins of her “gift.”

But while trying to uncover the secrets in her past, Corine and Chance find that something is rotten in the state of Georgia. Just a few miles away, no one seems to know Kilmer exists. And inside the town borders there are signs of a dark curse affecting the town and all its residents—and it can only be satisfied with death…

Well, there really isn’t any way around it so I’m just going to put it on the table. I was bummed by my reaction to this book. To give some perspective, I wasn’t totally sold on the series with the first book, but it had enough to put Hell Fire on my most anticipated list for 2010. Plus, this is Aguirre’s work we’re talking about. Her Sirantha Jax scifi series ranks in my top ten favorites. I’m wondering, though, with this second installment into Corine’s life, if the series just isn’t for me.

One thing in the book’s favor, we get right into the action described on the back cover blurb. Corine and her ex boyfriend, Chance, have left the dry dangerous climates of Texas for the sultry humidity of Corine’s home state of Georgia. Now that Chance’s mother has been taken care of, it’s time  for Chance to live up to his end of their bargain and use his magical good luck talent to help her find out what happened to Corine’s mother when Corine was a young girl. She knew something wasn’t right in Kilmer, GA, and when she and Chance encounter a badly mauled dog on their way into town, they know something still smells rank. Tempted to give in right then and there, Corine nevertheless decides to stick it out. The thought of going back terrifies her like nothing else, but the thought of never knowing holds a terror all its own that threatens to haunt her forever.

This book is all about Corine, whereas the previous book held a lot of issues melded into one, from many different people. This time it’s Corine’s turn to exorcise some demons, and she’s also got to deal with the romantic entanglements that Chance and Jesse, a cop from Texas, bring to the mix. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Chance in the first book. I think it had to do with him being so standoffish, yet clearly wanting and expecting something from Corine. But as she would point out many a time, it was all pretty one-sided, Chance never wanting to truly share himself with her while expecting her to bare her soul to him.

A lot of these same issues follow them to Georgia, and I felt they were redundant. Corine constantly thinks about Chance and their problems, and being that I don’t particularly care for his character, they were somewhat annoying. To put it succinctly, I don’t know what she sees in him. And they’re dilemma takes up a lot of the book, sneaking in significant looks, and short scenes here and there, keeping that tension heightened between them constantly.

And then there was Jesse, who Corine acts more naturally and normally around, who also has ties into the magical side of life. He’s Corine’s mentor in a way and even though he’s only known her for a short time, he’s pretty dang loyal. Enough to drive all the way from Texas to help her when he “feels” her emotions from that distance. Unlike Chance, I can’t think of a single thing wrong with Jesse, as far as a romantic partner goes. The only thing, again, is how hung up on Chance she is. It’s not really fair to Jesse and I wasn’t particularly keen this time on the idea of a love triangle. Corine has no problem with engaging each man romantically, without any of it really going anywhere.

Once we move beyond the romantic conflict, there’s the plot to consider. And I found I enjoyed the plot of Hell Fire much more than its predecessor. The mystery tied to Corine’s mother’s murder and the town was too much to resist. I’m a Southern gal myself, and I thought Aguirre captured the small town feel – and its sometimes bygone era creepiness, perfectly. Some thoughts Corine had about the prejudices in the South made me pause in a way that made me disappointed in her character, but I was glad to see her grow from those and reassert some of them.

But going back to small Southern towns, there really are these kinds in the Southern U.S. still. Like they’ve manged to get time to stand still, not a modern element in sight. Everyone knows everyone else, their business, and gossip is as easily spoken behind a back as a smile may have been given to that person’s face a few minutes prior. There is an overlay of some kind of force that has cut Kilmer, GA off from the rest of the world and the atmosphere created was perfect. Eerie, stale and dangerous.

The people inhabiting it were no less suspect, and Corine, Chance and Jesse, along with their British friend, Booke, work around the clock to figure out why everyone is so secretive and why the town has a shield of some sort, keeping modern technology from working properly. People thirty minutes down the road in other towns have never heard of Kilmer and everyone from the sheriff to the wife running the bed and breakfast where they stay is hiding something.

At that bed and breakfast, they meet the daughter of the couple running the place, Shannon, and she turns out to be an important character in their examining of the town’s strange habits. The closer they look, too, the more Corine’s small ragtag group (including the awesomely cool chihuahua, Butch, who seems to be more than a mere pooch) gets in the fire. With Corine, it’s quite literal. Her gift, that of being able to merely touch objects to know their history, comes in very handy this time, yet it also grows in strength. She suffers greatly for using it though and we get to find out why she even has the gift.

As far as plot and pacing go, I thought the book really pulled through nicely. I didn’t feel the characters were very consistent, though, or maybe I wanted more clear explanations for why, say, Corine acted so involved at some points, but felt barely involved at others. I understood that the town and the past had a terrible hold on her, but she waffles a lot and her resolve is sorely tested. It felt as if just when I was ready to get behind her and cheer her actions, she’d fall back a step or two. I think the back and forth made it hard for me to get into and fully appreciate her character.

There’s a lot of sadness in this book, and with good reason. There’s some good moments too, though, as well as moments where I had to suspend belief (The evil they finally encounter, for example, was kind of underwhelming and barely any protests for carting around the teenage Shannon on their dangerous mission was a little unbelievable, despite knowing why they had to do it. I know, I know…these probably sound picky, but they stood out to me.). There’s even some very creative solutions used by the characters and author for certain dilemmas and to describe and implement the mystical aspects. The romance I think I could have done without, or perhaps developed further beyond where they were with it in the first book, as opposed to going through pretty much the same thing another book through. As to where Corine stands, romance-wise, well, you’ll have to see for yourself. It might just be a me thing, and other readers able to appreciate that element a lot more.

Overall, Hell Fire didn’t really move me a lot more than the first book in terms of enthusiasm for the series. I had hoped to connect with the main characters more. On the other hand, I feel that the author does an excellent job with the plot and the elements necessary to pull it off. I’m at a crossroads here, and I’m probably going to be curious enough to read the third book, Shady Lady when the time comes, but at the same time I’m not exactly driven to it.

If you were already a fan of the series, I’m betting you’ll appreciate this installment just as much. If you’re wondering whether to skip book one, you can probably enjoy this one without having read the first, although Corine’s relationships with the continuing characters mentioned might not seem as fully fleshed out, as if you’ve walked into the middle of an ongoing argument, which you will have. Personally, I’d start with book one.

Rating: Three Scoops

Series Order

  • Blue Diable
  • Hell Fire
  • Shady Lady

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  1. Hm. Well, it sounds like you and I had similar reactions to the first book. Though I didn’t finish it. Just couldn’t connect with the characters. Doesn’t sound like I’ll be pursuing the rest of the series anytime soon.

  2. Personally I’m not a fan of drawn out relationship angst in a book series. I much prefer they don’t get together vs they did previous & now we must go through the agony of all their conflicts. I was hoping Hell Fire we would at least get some relationship issues settled between her and Chance or have her move onto Jesse. Just pick one is all I’m asking!

  3. I was lukewarm on the first book so I will probably only read this one if I can get it at the library. I’m really tired of the love triangle right now too so if the relationship doesn’t really go anywhere, I don’t really feel much incentive about it.

  4. I haven’t read the full review because I just bought Hell Fire, but I’m so disappointed you didn’t like it. I didn’t love Blue Diablo, which was a huge surprise to me because, like you, Ann’s Sirantha Jax series is one of my all time favorite series. I bought Hell Fire because I love the Sirantha Jax series so much I was sure Hell Fire would be better than Blue Diablo. Thanks for the review (even though the didn’t read all of it).

  5. Thank you KMont. I enjoyed Blue Diablo, but not as much as the first Sirantha Jax book, which I’ve finally read. I’m just not a fan of the first person, particularly in UF. I would like to see where this story goes though. And I’m with you, I didn’t really like Chance – you’re right, he felt standoffish.

    …seeing as my TBR pile wants to eat me.

    @KB – disturbing!

  6. Sorry for the blanket reply but I gots to depart from the computer in a sec and read.

    If any of you all decide to read the book, I do hope you enjoy it. One thing I can say with all confidence, despite not loving this series so far, Aguirre is an excellent writer. I know, how can I say that when I have issues with the books. Keep in mind I did like some parts of the book, actually about half, an even split. Despite not enjoying the character development, the writing is still good.

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