Burning Alive, the first novel in Butcher’s Sentinel Wars series, is the story of Helen Day, a damsel in full fledged panic mode, and Drake Asher, the non-human warrior intent on winning her bond for life. But, of course, it’s never as easy as that.
The start of the story finds Helen in a diner in Kansas, enjoying (or at least attempting to enjoy) a weekly night out with one of the elderly shut-in’s that she cares for. Her enjoyment is virtually impossible, however, because Drake Asher, the man that has haunted her fiery dreams of impending doom, for as long as she can remember, sits across the diner, seemingly oblivious to her presence and the horrible fate that he will soon witness; if not cause.
Within pages, Drake notices Helen attempting to hide behind her menu and decides to find out just what the deal is. Things explode into action rather quickly from there. Upon his approach, Drake quickly realizes that Helen is capable of taking away the torturous pain that has long been his lot in life, with nothing but a mere touch of her skin to his. Helen, of course, wants nothing to do with this man who spells her doom. Being the warrior that he is, he leaves her no choice in the matter, all but kidnapping her and her elderly companion just in the nick of time.
We soon learn that Drake & Co are in the midst of a full fledged war that wages all around the oblivious human race. And unless Drake can convince Helen that he needs her; he might well lose the current battle, allowing the Sentinels’ enemies to undo the work of centuries. Helen, in a desperate ploy to save her elderly friend, reluctantly agrees to help, unaware that by doing so, the bond Drake needs from her has been tentatively set.
As the story progresses, Helen continues to battle the panic that thoughts of her eminent and painful demise bring while Drake tries to convince her that what she see’s could never be truth. The question, of course, is whether he can convince her and whether she can work through that terror and doubt in time to play the role Drake most desperately needs her to play; that of his personal savior and the hope of the Theronai race.
While the story was interesting; I couldn’t quite help but feeling a little bite at times. It was as if something vital were missing and perhaps it was. I could not relate to Helen.
I sympathized with her. I was often amused by her. And I most definitely pitied her. But I didn’t particularly like her. She has a nervous breakdown inducing terror of fire and seems particularly fragile. But, she a little too easily accepts Drake and his magic and demon infested world. It’s as if one minute she’s oblivious to the fact that said world exists and the next she’s not only accepting that world, but doing so with an inner strength that is quite at odds with the jittery, terrified woman she otherwise portrays. I believe Butcher was aiming to make the reader feel as if, despite that terror, she was a strong woman who could put that fear aside when the lives of others, particularly those she cares about, was at stake; but it didn’t come across that way. It felt rather disjointed and, as a result, was disconcerting and made the story difficult to delve into at times.
Drake, on the other hand, fascinated me. He’s dedicated his life to protecting the human race without the human race being any the wiser, but has done so at great cost to himself and the Theronai people. He’s endured great loss and still has never truly considered doing a thing differently; until Helen enters his life. For the first time, he finds himself wanting something different and despite the fact that he’s not human, he experiences very real human emotions and struggles and that makes him quite an endearing character.
That is really what kept me reading Burning Alive. I found myself charmed by the inner conflict Drake experiences, his struggle to behave honorably and fulfill his duty while still holding onto the one thing that has made him consider keeping something (or someone) for himself for once as well as the way he handles the turmoil. He recognizes the costs of such a decision and struggles to find a way to reconcile what he wants with the crushing weight of his duty to the Theronai and human races. That is, I think, a struggle many people can identify with on some level. At some point, we all find ourselves trying to juggle our responsibilities to others with what we want for ourselves. While our struggles aren’t necessarily as monumental as Drake’s; Butcher writes the story in a way that leaves you identifying with him and empathizing with his hopes and desires.
And that is something distinctly unique to this novel. In most romance novels, the author makes it easier to identify with the heroine and not so much with the hero. Whether that’s because most romance writers are women and it is simply easier to relate to the female (or heroine) perspective or for some completely different reason is a topic for another day. The point here is simply that it is refreshing to see a switch to that typical pattern. I found myself flying through the sections in which Drake’s point of view took center stage and crawling through those in which Helen was the character of inner focus and I value that.
There was much to the story that didn’t feel resolved or particularly well thought out; but I find myself feeling as if I have something to look forward to in future installments in the Sentinel Wars series. That, in and of itself, will be interesting as a new hero and heroine will take center stage in the next novel, so what more we learn about those issues unresolved in this novel will undoubtedly add newer dimensions to Burning Alive and the series as a whole simply from that switch in main character alone.
You can catch up with Shannon K. Butcher, read about the Sentinel Wars series or purchase your own copy of the novel by visiting her at: http://www.shannonkbutcher.com/
If you talk to most authors for any length of time about the craft, you’ll quickly learn that most believe there are very few rules in writing that cannot be broken. That is not to say that the rules should be blatantly disregarded. They shouldn’t. But, there is a time and a place in which the rules can be bent, ignored or simply rewritten. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about some of those rules and when/why they should be broken in addition to the typical book reviews and general postings.
That said, let’s start this series off with the big one, shall we?
The dreaded spelling and grammar. You might well hear that one should never disregard proper spelling and grammar in writing. I most respectfully disagree.
Let’s face it; there might just be more rules regarding the proper use of the English language than there are people in the United States. Generally speaking, knowing how to use the English language correctly in writing is a good thing. But, knowing when to ignore those rules can be an even better thing.
When you read a historical, say from the Regency period, and your hero or heroine is speaking with a street urchin who has had nothing resembling a formal education; would you really believe it if every word that came from said urchin’s mouth was perfectly spoken? What about if you’re reading a contemporary novel, romance or otherwise, and your character is speaking to a teenager. Would you believe it if every word that teenager spoke was perfectly correct? Would you believe it if every internal thought a character had came in complete, perfectly constructed sentences? Likely not.
Understanding when to break the rules and when to follow those rules can add depth to a story that would never be attained were the entire story written in perfect, precise English. At the same time, a great author can add levels and depth to each individual character simply by changing the patterns of speech when writing from the perspective of that character.
Another important point that should be made here deals with slang. There is a time and a place to use slang and a time and place in which slang should be left alone. You wouldn’t have your medieval characters using today’s slang and, in most situations, your contemporary characters wouldn’t use medieval speech patterns. Your 90 year old characters probably wouldn’t make a regular habit of using the same slang as your 16 year old characters and your 16 year old characters probably aren’t going to have a “knee’s up” like your 90 year old characters might.
Obviously, that’s not always the case either and that’s where knowing when to break the rules comes into play. Your eccentric 90 year old character might well attempt to “get jiggy with it,” your old soul in a 16 year old’s body might well go “out yonder,” your contemporary character might well say “tis and shan’t.” But chances are, your medieval character (unless he or she is a time traveling fool) probably isn’t going to break out with a “lamespice” or a “make it snappy.” Know when to use it and when to leave it alone; and don’t make a habit of overusing slang. Allow it to mingle with proper English or you might well find that your readers find said character annoying.
Which brings me to the spelling point. It’s important. And most of the time, it’s darn important. And failing to use it properly to no real purpose is incredibly annoying. One shouldn’t misspell words unless those misspellings have a point. For instance, spelling definitely as “definitaly” or “higher” as “hire” is typically not a good thing. If your character, however, is looking at a note in which those words are misspelled, it might be acceptable. If you’re dealing with a time period in which words were spelled differently than they are today or a world in which the language is similar but has those distinct variations, it would be acceptable to stick to the spelling of that time period or world. You, obviously, don’t want to do it so often that readers can’t keep up; but it can add to the story to do so occasionally.
In short, break the rules when breaking the rules adds to the story, but don’t do it so often that you wind up taking away from the story instead of adding to it and don’t do it without reason. Breaking to rules just to break the rules can be irritating for the reader.