fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book reviews Laura Bickle 2. SparksSparks by Laura Bickle

In Sparks, Laura Bickle’s follow-up to Embers, Anya Kalinczyk faces another baffling case of magic and mysterious fires. The Detroit Fire Department is confounded by what seem to be instances of spontaneous human combustion. Meanwhile, huckster guru Hope Solomon is amassing wealth and power on the backs of Detroit’s desperate. Anya and her friends are in grave danger when Anya discovers a link between Hope and the fires.

Hope Solomon is incredibly creepy. She espouses a blend of the popular “law of attraction” and “pay it forward” philosophies, with a sinister twist. I got a chill down my spine when I realized what she was doing, and I don’t even mean what she was doing supernaturally. If you’ve read anything about cults and/or pyramid schemes, it’ll probably give you a chill too. Hope may be a fantasy villain, but she’d be just as scary without magic and could easily hold her own in a mainstream thriller.

Unfortunately, Hope doesn’t get as much page time as one might desire, and the eventual confrontation between her and Anya is a little anticlimactic. Getting there is a harrowing trip, though. Laura Bickle’s depiction of the underworld, which combines Greek myth with a real-life Detroit landmark, is one of the highlights of the book. I’m such a sucker for underworld journeys. I’d probably like it even better if I were familiar with Detroit and the building Bickle describes.

Sparks is well-written, but I’m beginning to think this series may not be my cup of tea. It’s simply too bleak, and that’s not just because it’s violent (the violence level is not outside the norm for urban fantasy). It’s not just because Bickle uses Detroit’s present-day social problems as a backdrop either. It’s the pessimism. This is a world where even your closest loved ones may turn out to have a black hole where their ethics should be, and where trying to save someone often ends up with them getting killed anyway. I prefer a little more emotional warmth and a few more moments of triumph.

It’s because of this overall pessimistic mood that Sparky, Anya’s familiar, is so very important to the story. In Sparks, Sparky has a plot twist of his own that leads to the book’s few moments of tenderness and comic relief. The salamander is an irresistible bright spot; I plan to continue reading this series, and he may well be the biggest reason.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

    View all posts