I’m seriously conflicted about this book. It felt like an emotional rollercoaster, where one moment I’m swooning from a heart-wrenching romantic scene, and the next moment I’m wincing from a graphic description of horrific abuse. What do I know for sure? That Little Fire is an adult, High Fantasy Romance novel with impressive world-building and a compelling romance. What am I not so sure about? How this book will land for others, or frankly, how it landed for me. I struggled with some of the triggering content and found the plot evolution, especially the end, disjoint and jarring. This review will simply outline my experience; it’s up to you to decide if this might be for you. Please note that this review contains references to content that may be triggering for some readers, most notably rape, child abuse, and human trafficking. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 23/10/2021
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
Declan can kill with a blink of his eye. Jaded and cold, he rules his kingdom the same way he does his heart—with merciless pragmatism. So why does he risk all to protect a little mortal during a slave-trade uprising? Now stuck in the Shadow Realm, the loss of his powers are the least of his troubles. The woman may have a frustratingly tender heart, but she has enough fire in her soul to thaw the ice in his veins.
He could take her by right, but he wants more than acceptance. He wants her willing surrender…
Evangeline is chained by a past she can’t remember. Her fractured memories keep her shy and single. When she is thrust into a demon realm in the arms of an indomitable archmage, he becomes her only chance of survival. But soon, she realizes her unnerving protector may not be as callous as he appears, and her heart may be as much at risk as her life.
His desire for her is no secret, but she wants more than scalding lust. She wants his icy heart…
Can they survive the Shadow Realm long enough to break down each other’s walls?
There were two stand-out elements of this book: the world-building and the romance. The world consists of five realms each ruled and shaped by a different god and filled with fantastical beings and magic specific to that realm, and travel between the realms can only be accomplished through portals opened by the Fae. The realm in which our story begins is the home of the humans and mages, human-like beings with elemental and psychic powers, the most powerful of which are the archmages that rule with an iron fist.
The concept of the realms is introduced right off the bat with a poem, which I thought was a clever way of laying the groundwork for the world-building. Details of the world and magic were slowly introduced over the course of the book without info-dumping, which I appreciated. With the detailed descriptions of monsters and the abilities of the mages, it walks the line between soft and hard magic – in fact, I think it wants to have a harder magic system than it actually does – and this is not necessarily a bad thing. I sometimes like a harder magic system. But the problem was that it felt secondary despite being so well fleshed out. There was so much emphasis on the trauma and slavery (more on that later) that the detailed world-building felt tacked on, almost as if it was a separate entity within the story. The culmination of the plot takes place when the FMC and MMC are thrust into the realm of the Unseelie for the final battle, and suddenly – jarringly, in fact – that world-building comes to the forefront of the plot. It felt disjoint, and I found myself wishing for greater continuity.
I really enjoyed the romance between Declan and Evangeline. It developed slowly and organically, stemming from a tenderness between the two characters (as opposed to lust) as they care for one another during their exile in the demon realm. He is respectful of her trauma, never pushing himself on her, and genuinely just wants to be in her presence. They don’t become intimate until she asks for them to be, and the respsect and consent is incredibly sexy, especially given the context of both of their past struggles. The archmage is incredibly powerful, yet tempers his authoritarian ways to properly “court” Evangeline (the flower scene turned me to mush!) realizing that what he really wants is her willing participation. The relationship reveal at the end was a bit contrived and, I’ll admit, predictable, but nevertheless satisfying and filled with genuine emotion.
Now for the difficult part. This book is heavy into rape trauma, child abuse, and human trafficking. A large portion of this book revolves around dealing with the aftermath of rape (both from the perspective of the survivor and a resulting child) and physical abuse of children. Central to the plot is the trafficking of humans to be sold as slaves by the Unseelie to other realms and the sexual and physical abuses done to those slaves by members of the cartel and their owners. If these themes are triggering, or if you don’t have a stomach for explicit content describing such atrocities, this book probably isn’t for you.
Declan and Evangeline spend significant page-time coming to terms with their own trauma, dismantling the human trafficking cartel, and tending to the abused victims that they save. Their emotional scars – as well as the physical and emotional scars of the victims they save – are present, deep, and not glossed over. All that to say, these difficult themes are not employed gratuitously, but tackled head-on and given careful treatment throughout the book.
The writing was solid, and in some places I found it quite pleasurable, but there were times I found the language and word choice a bit forced. An inconsequential quibble in the grand scheme of things.
Will I read on in this series? Honestly? The jury is still out…