Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:
Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.
I'll just wait here while you open another tab to put in your order. There's really nothing more that I need to say, is there? What if I throw in robot dogs?
Since you're here anyway, I'll talk a little more about the book. In the early 22nd century, dragons show up (technically, come back) and everything changes over night -- cities burn, non-urban areas burn, geography changes, societies change, political/governmental realities change. And so on. Where there are dragons, there's fire; and where there's fire, there are firefighters. A special division of firefighters soon develops -- Smoke Eaters -- who specialize in dragon fighting, while the rest take care of fires, saving lives and property, etc. You know, the basic everyday hero stuff.
One such hero is Captain Cole Brannigan. After decades of fighting fires, he's a week away from retirement when disaster strikes and he finds himself without his air supply in a dragon smoke-filled room, which it turns out that he can breathe. Which means he's one of a select few people naturally immune to the stuff and is basically pressed into service as a Smoke Eater. Instead of commanding a squad and their respect, he's a trainee -- worse, a trainee who used to be a fire fighter. I'm not really sure I get the level of antagonism that exists between the two groups, but it's pretty intense. No one respects his expertise, his experience, his perspective. He's tolerated at best -- and that's really only because of the whole smoke immunity thing.
I cannot stress how much I enjoyed this dynamic -- stories about someone learning their way through a new reality, or new abilities, etc. are a staple of the genre. But a fully-realized adult, in a long-term, stable marriage (as stable as they can realistically come), successful already and sure of his place in the world being thrown into a new situation like this is unique. Cole spends as much time fighting his instincts about assuming leadership roles (and assuming people will follow) as he does trying to understand his new teammates and duties. Naturally, his perspective and experience will prove important to understanding a new challenge facing the Smoke Eaters.
I'm not going to get into everyone else, because this is Cole's story, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's the most interesting character (he probably is, though, your mileage may vary). The rest of the characters aren't quite as well drawn -- mostly because we see everyone through Cole's eyes -- but most are close enough that you don't notice.
I should probably mention that when he's not writing about fire-breathing lizards, Grigsby's an actual firefighter. So he knows his stuff -- when he says fire behaves a certain way, it's not because he's read a lot about that or watched Backdraft a few dozen times (well, both of those may be true, but neither is the primary reason he can say that fire behaves a certain way). The authenticity about this kind of thing shines forth and adds a layer of reality to this novel. He knows guys just like Cole -- and probably most of the other firefighters and Smoke Eaters -- he knows the devastation that fire leaves behind (both to structures and people), and what it takes to keep pressing on in the face of that.
There is a lot more that I want to try and cover, but this is one if those books that if I said everything I wanted to, it'd take a week to write and an hour to read - so let me wrap this up (man, I didn't even talk about Grigsby's Canada...the book is worth a look just for that). This is full of action, and some of the ways a gentleman of Cole's age keeps up with the action are pretty smartly conceived, but there's some thinking involved, too. Still, you'll be kept leaning forward in your seat. It's a good story; with great, developed characters; a wonderful concept; all executed like a seasoned pro was behind it all. There are some little details that will make you chuckle as you read them (the misunderstandings of barely remembered 20th century culture, for example). Smoke Eaters is going to be one of the best UF reads you find this year.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the good folks over at Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest take on the book -- thanks to both for their generosity and this rockin' read.
4.25 stars - Reviewed for Wit and Sin
A shy, quirky heroine who prefers books to parties. A sexy-as-hell hero with a sweet side. A scorching one night stand that becomes so much more. Put those three ingredients together and you’ve got a recipe for a highly entertaining romance. And when you add in Amy Andrews’s fast-paced style and signature humor then it’s clear to see why I couldn’t resist Playing House.
Eleanor is such a fun heroine. She grew up on a steady diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is in love with the fashion, manners, and romantic ideals of the nineteenth century. She’s also turned her love of Victorian fashion into a profitable business, which I found to be a delight to read about. Eleanor feels like the ugly duckling of her family, but she’s so much more than the kooky wallflower she sees herself as. Bodie is immediately captivated by Eleanor and I loved that he wasn’t just taken with her looks, but showed interest in what she was passionate about. Bodie grew up with a shark of a father and between that and his cheating ex-fiancée, he’s wary of falling for someone who will turn out to simply want him for his trust fund or his status a rugby star. Eleanor is a breath of fresh air to him in many ways and it’s clear from the outset that one night with her will never be enough. I could melt with how sweet Bodie could be. He may have wealth, privilege, and good looks, but he has worked hard to become successful and he’s got a heart of gold. I was rooting for him and Eleanor to become more than simply lovers because they were such likeable characters.
Eleanor and Bodie’s story is filled with erotic moments, and it’d be remiss of me not to at least mention how hot Playing House is. But what stood out to me were the quieter moments and if I had one (minor) niggle it’d be I wish there were more of them. Bodie and Eleanor are very different, but they complement one another perfectly. I liked watching them learn about each other. And when the two of them are handed a major surprise, I really liked that they handled life’s curveball fairly well. Their road to happily ever after isn’t smooth sailing. Insecurities, pain, and heartbreak made the story feel more real and may have even had me sniffling at one point. But I knew Ms. Andrews wouldn’t let readers down and the ending of Playing House left me with a smile on my face.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
From the FictFact.com book release calendar (if unfamiliar with Fictfact, it's a site for tracking book series).
So many covers and details are missing on booklikes, here's the text links as well: