Saturday, August 20, 2011

REVIEW: Firebug by Kate Roman

FirebugFirebug by Kate Roman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

In Firebug, Gareth investigates a string of arson fires that bedevils the city of New Eddington. As he dig deeper, he soon uncover a conspiracy that not only will destroy the entire city but start another colonial war. Sounds exciting but reading it wasn't.

We know straight-off that Firebug is a not mystery story because the first chapter shows Judge Barrington blackmailing scientist Theodore Molen to do something evil for him. In mystery novels, the villain is always revealed at the end, not at the beginning. From the second chapter to the end, the story is told in 3rd POV from Gareth's perspective as Gareth attempts to find who the villains are that the reader already knows. Not a huge problem if Gareth wasn't such an inept investigator which causes the first half of the story to be a dreary read.

The pacing of the story was slow because, except for the fire that introduces Cole to Gareth, the first half had nothing exciting happened. Instead of focusing on the crimes and saving more people from dying, the first half of the story had Gareth wooing Cole. Talk about the lack of priorities. I guess this was the author's way of setting up the romance before testing the couple's love with trials by fire, literally.

Even so, I thought the romance was weak. Homosexuality is a crime in the story so Gareth couldn't meet-greet potential lovers out in the open. Gareth met Cole only by chance in a gambling den (pun intended). With one look at Cole's eyes and a really good gaydar, he knew Cole would swing his way. I did not consider a closet gay happy finding another closet gay much of a romance. This makes me think Gareth and Cole only like each other because beside each other they don't know anyone else who is gay.

Fortunately, things to start heat up in the last half of the story but this only made the story slightly less irritating. Gareth's secret informant became his assailant when the guy realizes Gareth wasn't helpful in destroying the arsonists. *snort* Gareth only revealed the conspiracy behind the fires to Cole when Cole rescued him from a burning building. This made me smack my forehead that Gareth didn't recruit Cole, a FIREFIGHTER, earlier.

Now, Gareth not telling the police made sense because the author established the city-government to be similar to communist Soviet Union. The government preaches the common people being important while oppresses anyone who dare to speak out against them. Gareth, being a newspaper editor, knows this all too well. Nonetheless, I still thought Gareth was too stupid to not ask for help when Gareth obviously felt so incapable to do anything.

Beside Cole, Gareth had many people he could've ask for help. Had he ask his good friend Theodore, Theodore could've told Gareth the Judge Barrington was evil mastermind and was forcing Theodore to develop a bad-ass weapon. Had he ask the Countess (not a friend, but definitely not loyal to the bad "Reform" government, and being the owner of gambling den gives her connection the underworld), the Countess could've told Gareth the two guys who were setting the fires and that Judge Barrington was the evil mastermind. Kint was police but by the passion he pursue the criminals it was clear that Kint wasn't part of Judge Barrington's evil plan, so Gareth could have even ask Kint for help.

Hell, the only person who had real grasp of the entire situation was the Countess and she was only a supporting character. Only by her help did Gareth and Cole managed to escape. She's one of the few things I like about Firebug. Why did she dressed in men's clothes? Why is she spying for the King? What happened to her soldier-son that made her turned against the revolutionaries?

Beside Gareth being incompetent, Cole made no sense to me. I did not understand why he walked off from Gareth's house when he should've been recovering. Was he suffering PTSD from his time as a soldier? And as a firefighter, shouldn't he report back or something? All I got was that Cole was somewhat suicidal.

What made the story steampunk was the firebug— a big, spider-like, steam-powered machine in which the firefighters sit inside to fight fires. I got confused when Cole and Kint accused Gareth of being a firebug. It took me a while to realize that firebug also meant an arsonist. For such an important word, being the title of the story and all, I wish the author made "firebug" mean one thing only and not give it dual definitions.

The ending left me quite dissatisfied. New Eddington got burned. The villains got away with their newly-invented bad-ass weapon. And another colonial war might get started. The author ended Firebug on an optimistic note with Gareth and Cole alive, still in love, on a ship to alert the Crimean King of the bad-ass weapon. But eh. There were too many missed opportunities that the heroes could've stopped the villains. I would've like the story had the characters were more sensible and smarter. I rate Firebug 2 stars for it-was-okay.

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