Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Fire Baptized, an urban fantasy by Kenya Wright which I finished reading this morning.
Characters: Protagonist and narrator Lanore is a brown-skinned, dread-locked young woman studying — sociology, I think — at a Florida university. She’s of mixed parentage — part fairy, part demon, which has given her the unique gift of being able to generate and control fire, while being immune to being burned.
Lanore is attractive, even sexy, as seen by two would-be rapists in the book’s opening chapter — and by the two male supporting characters, MeShack and Zulu who both love her. And who are hunky, of course.
In Lanore, Kenya has created a brave, hard-headed, street-smart protagonist, who nevertheless is susceptible to softer emotions.
Kenya surrounds her with a huge cast of colorful, magical characters in a confined urban environment. Her story is populated exclusively by shape-shifting were-creatures, demons, vampires, pixies, fairies, and combinations of them, known as Mixed-Bloods, or “Mixies.”
They are all mostly human in appearance until they manifest their various abilities. And readers will certainly recognize their human behaviors of greed, lust, kindness, self-sacrifice, stubbornness, pettiness, love, hatred and bigotry.
Kenya does a wonderful job of bringing her exotic characters to life and making them real, sympathetic and accessible.
Plot: Lanore finds herself involved in the deadly scheme of a serial killer when she stumbles onto and escapes from a murder-in-progress. Involved against her will, she goes after the killer with the reluctant help of her friends.
Setting: “The Santeria Habitat” is a walled, caged city near Miami, in which the story’s large population of supernatural beings is confined by the non-magical human residents of the outside world.
Why they’ve been confined to this ghetto isn’t well-explained in the story, but of course history is filled with similar examples like the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Ghetto and to a lesser extent the slum habitats of this country.
There are several references to a “Supe-Human War,” which I’m guessing the supernaturals lost.
Even without the explanations, I didn’t have too much trouble with the prison-city scenario.
And it’s a good one. Kenya doesn’t go in for long descriptive passages, but does give glimpses and details that add up to a coherent picture.
I shook my head from side to side, quickening my pace. Out of all the districts in Santeria Habitat, Shango had the most deaths and highest crime rate.
One day, I’ll move to a nice place.
Broken streetlights met me as I turned the corner.
Maybe I’ll get a good job after college or go to law school.
I passed the border wall on my right, which was glowing with multicolored graffiti. Free Us! was spray painted near the wall’s attached bars that extended thousands of feet in the air and covered the habitat’s districts like a ceiling.
That last paragraph is certainly reminiscent of the Berlin Wall.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Not much, to be honest. There could’ve been a little more backstory about the Supes-Human Wars, and how the Habitat came to be, but that was certainly not a deal-breaker for me.
One of the murdered characters is a powerful being. I don’t recall the question of how the murderer did the job on that character ever being satisfactorily answered. Maybe it was in there and I missed it, but going back through, I couldn’t find it either.
Sorry if that’s a bit obscure. I’m trying not to give anything away. Really, there’s not much to complain about in Fire Baptized.
What I thought was good: Starting with basics, the novel is well-edited. I didn’t find a typo or grammar error anywhere.
Kenya’s writing style is confident and conversational. She uses active voice, vivid verbs, and varies her sentence lengths, though she favors short. Here’s a random sample:
And without any hesitation, Zulu rammed his hand in Dante’s mouth, ripping out a fang. A black liquid oozed out from Dante’s lips. He stumbled back, stunned. His eyes turned to a lethal red.
“Did I pass your test?” Zulu leaned his head to the side.
A woman shrieked near me.
Did you notice no adverbs? There’s no “I screamed loudly,” or “A black liquid oozed slowly…”
Just muscular verbs for description, and that helps keeps the writing tight and fast-paced.
I enjoyed the supernatural characters and their powers, and the detective-noir atmosphere permeating the story. Kenya creates a bizarre, but strangely familiar environment, describes it well, and keeps it internally consistent.
I liked the limitations Kenya placed on Lanore’s powers — tough to make fire when it’s raining, for instance — and how she gives a bit of explanation about Lanore’s powers. Here, Lanore tries to tap her pyro-bility to defend herself against two rapists in the book’s beginning:
Realizing that my left arm remained free, I focused on creating fire. A tiny flame formed near my palm and then faded out. I tried releasing more heat. The flame faded again. Fuck. Fire is created when flammable liquid and oxygen are exposed to heat. My pores naturally released heat and flammable pyrobem oil. Presently, water drenched my skin, depriving my fire of the oxygen and heat it needed for combustion.
I can’t say romance and sex-scenes are my favorite part of any novel or movie. But they are a necessary part — see any James Bond book or novel — I’ve got them in my own book. Kenya’s are done well. They’re vigorous, without being vulgar. She brings the same high-quality writing skills to these episodes that she shows throughout the book.
The bigotry of the pure-blood supernaturals toward the lower-caste “mixies” gives the story an added layer of credibility. How human, really — even supernatural creatures want to feel superior to someone else.
And that’s what I liked best — the essential multi-faceted humanity of Kenya’s characters. MeShack for instance, capable of bloodthirsty jealousy over Lanore, also shows concern for a small boy, orphaned by one of the murders.
Overall: Fire Baptized is a wild urban fantasy told in a masterful, though matter-of-fact style. Kenya has created a paranormal world by turns frightful and familiar. She’s jammed it with action and emotion, including high-voltage romance.
Her crowning achievement, imho, is that she’s done all that — and kept it real.
Good job, Kenya!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!