Dr. Emma D’Eresby is a stranger in a strange land. She has just arrived in Maine, on the trail of an obscure 400 year old journal, after finishing her degree in history at Cambridge. The university depicted in C.F. Dunn’s Mortal Fire, the opening novel in a new series, is full of odd characters. Emma finds a few good friends her first week, but unfortunately, she makes a few enemies.
The summaries I’d read of Mortal Fire intrigued me. They made this sound like another A Discovery of Witches, but that’s not what this book is—at least not this part of it. Emma is a scholar and she does want to read this journal, but Dunn is never really clear why and the plot of the book rapidly carries our historian away from her own researches. First, Emma has to discourage the pushy attentions of Sam Weisner, who won’t take not for an answer. Then there’s Kurt Staahl, who gives Emma the creeps by following her and by generally being disturbing. In the middle of all this, Emma discovers an attraction to Dr. Matthew Lynes. Dr. Lynes clearly likes Emma, too, but always puts her off about his past and his family and giving Emma another mystery to ponder.
Weeks flash by in this book. Emma continues her research into the motivations of early modern torturers, tutors her graduate students, fends off Weisner and Staahl, and finds time to spend with Dr. Lynes. She finds the journal, but never has a chance to read it before she is brutally attacked the night of the university’s All Saints’ Night festivities.
The pacing of Mortal Fire is strange. It’s clearly just the first part of a longer book. The attack takes place about two-thirds of the way through the book. The culprit is quickly arrested. Emma and Dr. Lynes grow closer during her convalescence, but there’s not a lot of action in the entire last third of the book. I’m glad I knew this was just the beginning of a longer story because I would have been even more irritated by the abrupt ending. There’s also almost too much going on in this book, making it feel muddled at times. And yet, I really enjoyed spending time with Emma. She’s different and deeply principled. She never does what I expected her to do. My one big concern about her is that she was placed as the victim in need of rescue a few too many times in this book. I hope she gets to take firmer charge of her life in the next installments.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review.