Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #1.5
Length: 117 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: May 29, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance
As a teen, Lucy left home to gain the independence to pursue her dreams. When a renegade scientist captured and used her as a guinea pig, she escaped, but not unscathed. Rendered permanently invisible and with little memory of her previous life, she has transformed herself into Noir, a rogue crime fighter with one goal: find and stop her tormentor from harming anyone else.
Police Lieutenant Aloysius James thought he’d seen it all in the crumbling and corrupt Charlton City, but a brutal bank robbery committed by a monster has left him feeling he’s out of his depth. One man is missing from the scene and if he isn’t found soon, Al fears he’ll be as dead as the rest.
Al is unprepared for the one woman with the key to solving the case—Noir, who seems equally surprised he doesn’t find her unique ability repulsive.
Together they go out into the night, joining forces to track the monster down. They never expected their desperate alliance would generate a force of a different kind. Attraction…and desire.
Okay, I’ll admit it, the name of the town in this book made me crack a smile every time. This entry in the Phoenix Institute series takes place in “Charlton City”. I never knew my husband’s family had a whole town named after them, even a fictional one.
I know, I’m digressing. Again.
Although Luminous is a novella in the Phoenix Institute series, the Institute (or its characters) doesn’t appear until the very end of the story. This one is about the kind of person the Institute wants to help, and how she’s coped without their help until now.
It also shows that there are more “gifted” people in the world than just the few that the Institute has found, and that there are more evil mad scientists fooling around outside their expertise (and mental stability) than just the ones employed by Richard Lansing before his timely demise.
In some ways, Luminous reminds me more of Batman than the X-Men, who seem to be the inspiration for the Institute. In Luminous, we have a mysterious crime fighter a la Batman, teaming up with a righteous cop in a corrupt city, a la Commissioner Gordon and Gotham.
The difference is that in Luminous, our mysterious crime fighter has lost the ability to “take off her mask” and her relationship with the cop is way more than just a crime fighting partnership.
Our heroine only knows herself as “Noir”. Years of being the victim of sadistic experimentation by a truly mad scientist have left her with no memory of her life before she was kidnapped, and a bad case of “Invisible Woman” syndrome.
Noir is completely invisible, even to herself. That invisibility is what allowed her to escape from her tormentor, but she can’t remember, or find a way, to turn it off. When she needs to be seen, she dresses in black from head to foot, including a mask and gloves, so that there is something there for people to react to.
Not that she lets people see her to have a reaction very often.
But Noir has a goal; to find and stop the doctor whose diabolical experiments caused Noir so much pain. She also needs to stop the monster that her tormentor has created out of the man who used to be that same doctor’s brother.
The kidnapping, bank robbing, murdering spree has just got to stop. Noir has lots of information on Doctor Jill and her Monster Brother Jack, but no way to put it in the right hands – until she watches Police Lieutenant Aloysius James take charge at the scene of the monster’s latest rampage.
While it can be said that Noir is trying to be a hero, she also needs a hero. She needs someone she can trust, someone who will both believe in her and believe her, and someone who can accept her as she is, invisibility and all.
Al James is the one uncorrupt cop in a very corrupt city. Because he isn’t on the take, he’s always alone – none of the other cops think they can trust a man who isn’t as morally bankrupt as they are. Yes, there is an irony in that. The untrustworthy are only capable of trusting those equally untrustworthy.
But in his isolation, Al is willing to trust a woman he can’t see over a bunch of his fellow cops who he sees all too clearly. He may not be able to see Noir’s face, but he can tell from her actions that she is on the side of right.
Too many of his supposed brothers in blue are all too ready to take a payoff to either turn a blind eye to the evil in Charlton City, or to turn Al in to the forces of evil for cold, hard cash.
Noir is the only person who can save him from the crap he’s stepped in to – and Al is the only person willing to save Noir from her life on the invisible run. But first, they have to take down evil. Together.
Escape Rating B+: Luminous reads like a combination of Batman (with a gender twist) and Frankenstein. Doctor Jill certainly qualifies as the evil scientist who creates a monster (or two monsters, counting her crazy self).
In the mad scientist vein of SF (and SFR) we’re never quite sure in this book whether Noir’s power of invisibility is an accidental side-effect of Doctor Jill’s experiments, or whether it is something that was latent in her all along. One of the scary things for Noir is that she doesn’t know either.
Al and Noir are both messed up people, and their fairly heavy baggage draws them together. Al needs both a case where he can really make a difference and to let someone or something into his life besides work. Noir needs someone she can trust with her secret, someone she can be herself around, even if that self is invisible. Under her invisibility, she’s still a woman who needs contact with other people.
Both Al and Noir are wearing masks in one sense or another. Noir’s disguise is literal, she can’t be seen. Al hides his love for the city he serves (or at least its people) under sarcasm and cynicism, just as he hides what Noir discovers is a totally fine body under rumpled and even slightly oversize clothes.
Noir is able to be herself with Al, even if the only self she knows is the one she has constructed in the few months since she escaped the experimental lab. Al needs to re-discover a self that is not just a workaholic cop, but actually has a real life.
Al’s road is surprisingly rockier than Noir, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his ability to remember his whole life.
Solving the case turns out to be easy – for certain bloody and beat up cases of easy. Solving the possibilities of a real future relationship turns out to be a lot more difficult, but we don’t discover those details until Ghosts of Christmas Past.
The Phoenix Institute turns up at the end, as Al discovers both Noir’s identity before her kidnapping, and that the Phoenix Institute wants to help people like her. The future involvement of the Institute, and particularly psychic Beth Nakamora, provides the plot-excuse for Beth to be unavailable in the next Phoenix Institute story, Phoenix Legacy. The case in that story would have been much too easy to solve with Beth’s telepathy on tap.
But Noir and Al’s story is a terrific superhero-type romance/adventure all on its own.
Originally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly