Elizabeth Hunter‘s first book in the Elemental Mysteries series, A Hidden Fire, is a paranormal new adult romance about Italian vampire politics. It’s like Twilight left its awkward junior high years and entered college: it still makes some mistakes, but you don’t cringe quite as much while watching it make those mistakes.
I found A Hidden Fire on Amazon as a free kindle book, which, to be honest, is the only reason I have it. I started reading it while crashing on a friend’s couch; she had gone to bed, so a paper book wasn’t an option, and this was the first book on my kindle. I scoffed at first. Even a very well done paranormal romance is still a paranormal romance. It’s an absurd concept. There aren’t many good ways to leap over the idea that an immortal mythical creature is in love with a human and she’s just totally okay with getting sucked into his world. It takes a lot of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, and that suspension took me a few chapters for this book. But, after getting past that turning point, I read it for the next five hours, going to bed at four in the morning, and only then because I knew I had to meet a friend the next morning, a friend I didn’t really feel like losing because I was cranky from no sleep. So I finished it the next day.
What first interested me in this story was Hunter’s vampires. While I am, sadly, not yet well acquainted with the all the old vampire tales and the descriptions and characteristics therein, I believe Hunter provided a new spin to the vampire mythos. They are, of course, immortal and excessively strong with heightened senses and an aversion to sunlight, as per usual, but each vampire in her world (the real world, for all intents and purposes) is affiliated with a certain element: water, earth, air, fire. Fire vampires are the rarest (so of course that’s our hero) and each, depending on age and strength, can manipulate his element for his benefit. It made for some interesting battle scenes. And, best of all, I didn’t see any obvious plot holes, so yay world building!
B, the protagonist, is fairly average as far as these types of books go. She’s sort of pretty, very bookish, and is a snarky loner with missing parents. Boring. She gets a little more interesting in the second book when she starts taking martial arts, but she still fits a mold. Giovanni, the hero/vampire/sexy bad boy, is also fairly average for his character type, but, with hundreds of years of life behind him, has a much more interesting backstory than most. He’s a rare book collector/conman/artist, so Hunter’s really got all her bases covered on “perfect man.” He is, of course, also tall, dark, and handsome with an accent.
The other characters are less predictable: Caspar was an enjoyable addition and Carwyn and his wolfhound were probably my favorite part of this book. Doyle, the cat, is also a pretty great addition. Lorenzo is not what I was expecting. Childish and strategic is a fascinating combination, one Hunter actually manages to pull off. Even if many of her characters are fairly average, Hunter does definitely have a leg up in naming characters. Giovanni, Carwyn, Caspar, Tenzin, Lorenzo, Gavin, Niccolo, Livia… Beautiful.
The plot kept my interest, which is really all I can ask of a plot. It wasn’t anything revolutionary or incredibly thought-provoking, but I didn’t get bored. It lived up to its genre. Mystery is a bit of a strong term for this book as I was never really intrigued or confused as to what was going on, but I appreciated that it had more than romance. Romance novels that focus only on the will they/won’t they drive me insane. At least there was something going on in this book; there was a good, old-fashioned villain and a fair amount of world building. The mentions of Italian renaissance men and events was an interesting plot element, however I don’t know how much of it was factual and how much was creative liberties. And it wasn’t in depth or interesting enough for me to care enough to look it up. Sad.
I don’t know if I’ll ever read this book again, but I don’t regret reading it the first time. The second book in this series let me down a little as it lost a lot of momentum and seemed like filler, but I still finished it in two days and didn’t get bored. I have hopes for the third and fourth books, which I’m still waiting for from the library.
On a side note, I was intrigued by the fact that Carwyn was a priest. I wish Hunter spent more time reconciling vampirism (often seen as demonic) with religion. I don’t doubt that it’s possible, in fact I love it, I just want more of it. I’d also like more about vampire biology and the “magic” of the world. Early on in the book, Giovanni tells B, “I’m not asking you to believe in magic, Beatrice. I’m asking you to believe that there are things in this world you don’t understand yet. Things that none of us do.” Then Hunter later mentions that one of the vampires was doing some research into vampire biology, but drops it. She hints at more world building, but doesn’t often go deeper into it. So fingers crossed parts of the third and fourth books are dedicated to that.
As someone with a soft spot for YA romance, I enjoyed this book. I’d recommend it to others, but with a warning that you’re not going to get more than you expect. It is, after all, a story about a vampire/human romance, so there’s that. Both the first and second books (but especially the second) could have used more fleshing out. It was a complete story as I was reading it, but, looking back, I want more about the world, about the people. I want a thicker story–a bowl of ice cream compared to the milkshake it is now. But it’s an easy read and an interesting story with likable, if not obsession-worthy, characters. If you like this sort of thing, definitely check it out. It doesn’t get better than free.