Reviewed: July 8, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Negotiator Trilogy, Book 3
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 448 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle, Nook
They may have graced her with the title of Negotiator, they may have acknowledged her as a representative of her race, but they are and forever will be other.
New York City hasn't seemed the same to Legal Aid lawyer Margrit Knight in the months since she was pulled into the world of Old Races. She hasn't seemed the same, even to herself, especially in the two weeks since the actions she took against the djinn Malik to protect dragon crime lord Janx directly led to Malik's demise. Nightmares of fire and death stalk her sleep, and out of a desperate need for time to come to terms with the recent past she keeps Alban at arm's length and stops herself from looking up as she jogs through Central Park at night.
Turns out that act of self preservation wasn't enough to keep Alban's old rival Biali from snatching her up and flying away with her. Before she can cry foul, Biali's move to draw Alban into a fight over the death of the halfling gargoyle...and batshit crazy murderer Ausra has yanked Grit right back into Old Race politics.
As Margrit prepares to defend Alban in a battle he refuses to fight for himself, she further thrusts herself from the familiar human world and into that of the gargoyle she's come to love. Inherently dangerous, industriously devious, unapologetic in their machinations, the Old Races are both tempting lure and cautionary tale. Embracing them and their world means forever walking a dangerous tightrope between gargoyle, vampire, selkie, dragon, and djinn, currying favor and carrying secrets and doing deals. The slightest misstep, the briefest bobble, and it won't simply be an issue of losing a case, it'll be a matter of forfeiting her very life.
The Negotiator trilogy draws to a close in this complex and thorough third book, and in so doing, evidences just what I like most about trilogies. When done particularly well, as in this case, the first and second books set up the characters, the world, and the many layers of plot, and by the third, readers can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of the author's labor as impending conflicts are realized, questions are answered, and resolutions are reached.
Hands of Flame doesn't suffer from the slow start of Heart of Stone or the slightly ponderous plot details of House of Cards. It hits hard and fast, picks up the action and the continued dramatics of the Old Races, and builds off what came before as it spirals towards a tenser and tenser conclusion. So many delicious lingering plot threads are tidied up, so many interesting mysteries are revealed. Margrit is still the quintessential Don Quixote, tilting at her Old Race windmills, but the stakes are ever so much higher with beloved characters on the line in new and scary ways.
I love this trilogy, and most of the reasons why are in this book. The depth given to the characters is so appealing, and as I prefer shades of gray as opposed to a strict black-and-white philosophy, the delightful moral ambiguity of best friends and fiercest rivals Janx and Daisani, dragon and vampire, offered me some of the best, if not the best, interpersonal conflicts between secondary characters I've ever read. Of course Margrit is the central character of the trilogy, with Alban a close second as the rock-solid male lead (no pun intended...really), and I liked them both. Yet while I enjoyed the journey of their relationship as it evolved over the three books, I have to admit, without the two bad boys, the trilogy wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining for me, and there are definitely some positively delicious developments with them in this book.
There's a lot of yum in the story as a whole in this book, actually. Even after reading the first two, I wasn't fully prepared for the full scope, imagination, and originality of the many-headed monster that is Hands of Flame, and I was struck anew by Murphy's ability to weave such a richly developed and intricate trilogy with such attention to detail and continuity. I sort of loved everything about it, and the end -- the epilogue -- well, a special kernel of more-than-love is awarded to that bit of it. I positively adored how everything was tied up. I even appreciated those strands of complication or development that weren't quite tied, but at least given a nod, because it struck me as realistic and believable.
Though I know The Negotiator is a completed trilogy, and C.E. Murphy has been firm about Margrit and Alban's story being done, I can't help but thirst for more novels set in their world featuring the characters that I've come to love. Maybe we'll see more of the Old Races some day. I, for one, hope for more than the occasional short story that Murphy offers through her website, stories that delve into the past of such beloved characters as Janx and Daisani. I hunger to see what happens next, far more than what came before, and while I'm sure that makes me greedy, for the sort of layered, complex, and brilliant writing that I found in this trilogy, I'm more than okay with that label.
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