Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #3.5
Length: 167 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: November 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance
As Christmas approaches in crumbling Charlton City, Detective Aloysius James and his partner, Noir, are at a crossroads. Figuring out how to reconcile their careers with their relationship is harder than catching the bad guys.
Now that Noir has learned to control her invisibility and is making a name for herself among the city s artist collective, Al senses there s something she s keeping from him. And he doesn t know how long they can remain partners. Or even lovers.
Noir isn t sure how Al would take it if he knew how deeply he has touched her artistic soul, or how he could react if he saw the secret drawings that have helped heal the wounds of her past.
When a murder lands them on opposite sides Al ready to arrest a suspect Noir insists in innocent they re going to need to unwrap all the ghosts of their pasts to make this Christmas the first of many. Or it could be their last.
Ghosts of Christmas Past is a direct sequel to the earlier novella in this series, Luminous. It fills in some of the background gaps that were left at the end of the first book, and tells a lovely story about what happens to the hero and heroine after the supposed happy ever after. The journey to HEA is a bit rockier than anyone expect.
And the nod to Dickens is totally exploited. The scenes of A Christmas Carol do come into play in this story, in a way that is novel but totally in keeping with the season.
But don’t read Ghosts of Christmas Past without having read Luminous first. The Al and Noir stories feel like a separate sub-series in The Phoenix Institute. You know the Institute is in the background, but Noir and Al only have limited contact with it.
The issue in this story is their contact with each other.
At the end of Luminous, Al hands Noir the results of his research into missing young women at the time she was taken. He helps her reunite with her parents, and gives her the information she craves about the person she was before the kidnapping.
Lucy was a 17-year-old artist. She was also a white girl from the middle-class suburbs. Al is a black cop in a corrupt city. Even though Lucy is no longer 17, Al is still about 15 years older than Lucy. Between those facts, and Al’s general lack of belief in himself and his ability to be anything other than a workaholic cop, Al is certain that Lucy will leave him sooner or later, possibly sooner. So he’s already detaching himself.
But Lucy isn’t just Lucy anymore. She suffered over 5 years of being a human guinea pig and then rescued herself with her own latent psychic abilities. Lucy may be part of Noir, and vice versa, but she is not the woman she would have been if the kidnapping hadn’t happened. She needs to find her way to being a synthesis of Lucy and Noir. While she loves her parents, and is grateful to have found them, she is very, very far from being the little girl they remember.
Lucy is her own woman, and that woman loves Al James, workaholism and all. She just has to get him to believe it. While they both help and work against each other to solve a murder and corruption case in City Hall.
They’ve always been good at solving crimes together. Now they have to figure out if they trust each other enough with all the other parts of their lives. And Al needs to finally develop some other parts to his life, before it’s too late.
Escape Rating B+: Ghosts of Christmas Past feels like it completes the story in Luminous. We find out a bunch of things about both Al and Lucy/Noir that we didn’t learn in the first book. It was not clear by the end of Luminous whether Noir’s talents were created in the lab, or whether it was something in her all along. It was good to see that question answered, and to discover that Noir’s talents were latent, but they were something within Lucy’s DNA. Doctor Jill (Frankenstein) was crazy but not that talented.
It also fits better into this worldbuilding that Lucy was a latent. So far, none of the gifted have been created in a lab, and I like it better this way. We have met the future, and it sometimes turns invisible. Or heals itself.
Lucy’s talent is also a variation on Marian Doyle’s talent in Ghost Phoenix. The self-healing talent seems to be surprisingly wide-spread in this relatively small group, so it is good to see that other talents are as well.
But the core of this story is about trust. Al can’t let himself trust that Lucy will stay. Lucy is having a difficult time trusting that Al will make room in his life for her, especially since he isn’t recognizing the way that she has and continues to make room in the life she is creating for him. Lucy is both Lucy and Noir, but Al seems to think that she has to make a choice, and that it won’t include him.
Lucy feels forced from all sides – her parents want her to be the girl she was, and Al wants her to be Noir and not Lucy. Meanwhile, Al has to solve a murder at the City Museum that involves corrupt officials, the lover of one of Lucy’s friends, Tiny Tim’s crutch and Snow White’s glass coffin.
Al needs Lucy and her new artist friends to solve the case. It just takes him a while to see that putting the case together is a metaphor for their relationship.
Originally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly