Four-Sided Pentacle Series Book 1
Grayson of Concordia, known on countless worlds as the Duke of Ombra, is a mercenary, a sorcerer of shadows whose soul is consumed by darkness. For Gray, the savagery in his heart is manifest in an entity he calls Shad. He has long resisted Shad's enticements, but when he's hired to kidnap a grieving fire witch, he seizes the chance to restore his soul—no matter the cost.
Devastated by a shattering loss, Cenda's fiery heart has turned to ash. Doggedly, she has worked to master her powers and go on living, knowing she can never be whole again. When she encounters Gray, though, her will is no match for the dark fascination he exerts. But Cenda's newfound love and passion may not survive the terrible discovery of his betrayal...
Genre: Erotic/Fantasy Romance
Cover Thoughts: I'm in love with this cover. Every detail is spot on with the heroine, even down to the salamander in her hair and around her wrists. It also sets the overall feel and tone of the novel to perfection. The cover artist is James Griffin whose work is shown beautifully on the Happily Forever After blog. You can also view a stunning collection of his cover art at Veronica Bennet's Page.
Single Title/Series: THE FLAME AND THE SHADOW is book one of Denise Rossetti's Four-Sided Pentacle Series, but can also be read as a stand alone novel.
Why I read it: I was offered a soft copy by the author to review.
Grayson of Concordia, the Duke of Ombra, is a man driven by pain and self-hatred. A sorcerer of shadows, Gray was condemned by his once loving family as an abomination. He escaped their cruel betrayal only to have his innocence torn brutally from him soon after. Now years later, Gray has developed into a man of pure distrust of all others, even of himself. Despising what he must do, Gray has stooped to the promise of delivering an innocent to her doom in order to gain the chance to rid himself of the evil within his soul. But anything is better than the life he's living. To have peace within his mind and his heart is a dream that's a bare inch from reality. All he must do is procure and deliver a fire witch and his shadow, the evil abomination that haunts his every step, will be eradicated.
Cenda, having lost her heart with the death of her young daughter, has ceased to truly live. Locking herself away with her desolation and grief, Cenda finds eventual solace with the never-ending burn of the fire in her hut. Thinking herself mad when tiny salamanders come crawling tentatively from the glowing embers to scramble up her body to curl about her wrists and perch in her hair, Cenda discovers a new gift. Somehow the burning fever that had raged through her and ultimately killed her baby, gifted Cenda with the element of fire. The writhing flames don't burn her and her new found fiery friends offer her much needed comfort and strength. Now, where she'd once been clumsy and the controller of minute Magick, Cenda has the potential to exert immeasurable power. If she can learn to control it.
Traveling with the Unearthly Opera from Concordia, Grayson arrives at Sybaris the Pleasure Planet, nick-named after its gaming hells and brothels, with every intention of seducing the fire witch and taking her forcefully, if necessary, back to Concordia and to his promise of salvation. But from the first glance, he's in an agonizing war over his decision and his all consuming need to finally be free.
Cenda isn't necessarily beautiful. Her tall body is gaunt, flesh stretched tight over bones, hollowed cheeks with dark smudges beneath her golden brown eyes but her graceful movements and waist-length ebony hair are hypnotizing. Soon the seducer is seduced when shy kisses turn to raging lust. Cenda's obvious innocence entrances Gray's soul while her pain filled eyes cry out to the primitive part of him that recognizes the need to protect and cherish making his eventual betrayal all the more agonizing.
Cenda was enthralled the moment she spotted the Duke of Ombra hidden within the shadows of the stage at The Treasure. His haunting talent with the harp and heartbreaking tenor awakens her soul, stripping free her self imposed incarceration and filling her with life and hunger. When he comes to her after his performance, she has much to be suspicious of for she's not beautiful and the gorgeous man before her can obviously have his pick but his skilled kisses has lust surging to the surface and all she can think about is easing the painful ache of need and desire that has culminated alarmingly within her. Wary of the Duke's attention, but in desperate need of what his body promises, Cenda rationalizes that he'll be leaving soon with his troupe and dives head first into a night of unrestrained passion. Gray's insistence that she see him again is met in the affirmative but what Cenda is hoping is merely a fling, turns into uncontrolled love and a race to stay alive.
To Gray's horror, he's not the only one looking to capture the fire witch. The Technomage, a group of scientists that selfishly horde their knowledge from the peoples of Magick, have dispatched, in addition to Gray, a man of indescribable evil to capture Cenda. Apparently the Technomage Primus believed a back up plan was in order. Gray can only cringe at the thought of the horrible experiments that will undoubtedly be inflicted upon her and the man that he has made delivery arrangements with will surely lead Cenda down the same path, but Gray is much more merciful than the horror that tracks her now. Convincing himself that he's the lesser of two evils, Gray continues on with his plan of seduction and extraction.
When events and circumstances force Cenda to use her fire Magick, the once clumsy witch learns great control over the infinite power within her grasp. But with that power comes a price, one that Cenda despairs having paid for. With each new use discovered, Cenda begins to understand the desire of the factions scrambling to capture her for she can easily be molded into a weapon of untold destruction.
To Gray's eternal amazement, once Cenda discovers that his shadow is separate from him, but also intrinsically a part of him, she's not scared but rather entranced. Before his stunned eyes, she embraces that terrible side of him, holds him close and gives herself up at the same time. No one has ever embraced Gray so fully, so wondrously and without reservations or judgement. While his mind is still jealous and abhorred by the abomination of his shadow, he's slowly coming to accept that maybe he can be complete with Cenda and his shadow. But before he can make a decision on what do with his fire witch and his delivery promise they are suddenly betrayed and Cenda and Gray are captured by the Technomages.
The sterility of the labs and the twisted fascination of the scientists is nauseating. They want to learn about Cenda's power, how its triggered and if its reproducible. But worst of all, Gray's plan of betrayal is unveiled. Helpless and knowing that mere words won't make right his once plan to betray Cenda, Gray decides that the least he can do is bust them both from their sterile prison and take his fire witch, the woman he has come to love, some where safe even if it costs him his life.
THE FLAME AND THE SHADOW is an intense and epic journey of two people learning about themselves and bridging the canyons of despair that have been dug ruthlessly over time. Whether those canyons were created by self-loathing or the agonizing pain of loss, Gray and Cenda both come to terms with who they are and how to once again be free to love. Its a story filled with betrayal, flaring passion, corroding deceit with the end of the day being saved by the truest form of love.
Cenda, although a woman of forty-one years, really undergoes a coming of age journey in THE FLAME AND THE SHADOW. She's lived a life of carefree innocence. Even the loss of her child couldn't shake her naivete. She's the perfect inhabitant for the gift of fire for no amount of evil stains her soul, nor will it ever. Cenda also embodies the unfailing ability of acceptance and this is especially significant in Gray's case. He's a man that has been rejected so horribly by the ones he loved that his self worth is less than zero. To have Cenda accept all the crevices of his soul allowed him to open his heart for the first time since childhood.
Gray encompasses nearly all my favorite hero attributes. He's dark and dangerous. Skillful and passionate and when the right woman finally comes along, he'll risk his very life to see her happy. Sigh... His story is more than tragic and my heart wept when his past is fully uncovered. They way Rossetti wrote the unveiling of his dark past was incredible. She instilled excruciating build up and dropped the axe quickly with an echoing finality that leaves you breathless. I even had to walk away from the story for the evening after that.
The worldbuilding isn't anywhere near overwhelming. Instead of a monologue of the world and its inhabitants (which is so common and tedious), the elements of Rossetti's Four-Sided Pentacle universe are conveyed mostly via language. Within the opening chapter, Cenda's thoughts and expressions whisk you immediately to another world without question. Then slowly, as circumstances permit, you become immersed in an incredibly beautiful and fascinating land. In my mind's eye, I saw a colorful world of rainbow lakes offset by stark sterility that is then breached by raging volcanoes and feather forests. Rossetti also shed light on the fact that no environment is safe from the presence of mankind whether they be founded in Magick or science.
Despite all my love for THE FLAME AND THE SHADOW, there was one scene that made me sneer a bit at the heroine. Although her anger over Gray's revealed betrayal was justified, I thought she stooped a bit low with one cutting remark that I can't forget. I would have been fine with her anger, but I couldn't forget what she said to Gray and I thought he deserved a better apology given what she knew of him and his self-loathing. I never thought her cruel until that moment and it made me hesitate, enough so that I couldn't give the book an A grade. It might sound silly, but that was just my feeling. But otherwise it was an exhilarating and passionate read, one that I most definitely recommend especially if you like your romance on the steamy side.
Hussy Approved Reading Material!