Title: Firebug
Author: Kate Roman
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Genre: LGBT steampunk/science fiction/fantasy
Length: Novel
Rating : 2.75 stars out of 5

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: Early reveal of the villain made this story a very frustrating read for me.


Crimean war veteran-turned-newspaper editor Gareth Charles finds himself embroiled in the blackest side of the new Reform government when he investigates a string of arsons in the snowbound colonial outpost of New Eddington. After saving Firewalker Thomas Cole from the latest blaze, the two men find themselves in possession of a deadly secret — and falling in love. Fugitives from justice, they must unravel the terrifying mystery before there’s no New Eddington left to save.

As the firebug’s evil plan comes to fruition, the two veterans realize the only things worth saving might just be each other.


Before I continue I have to warn you guys, if you want to actually read this story as some sort of mystery, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT read the prologue. Skip it instead, because very soon you will realize that prologue actually reveals the villain of the story. I reread this story twice and I still do not understand this artistic choice by the author. Granted, I have read stories before, which supposedly had mystery plot or subplot where villain was revealed early enough, however those stories placed more emphasis on the character development and not on the plot, so at least these revelations early on made some sense to me because who villain actually was did not matter much, the reactions of other characters mattered significantly more. In this story our two heroes actually investigate in the story, trying to find who the villain is and it felt all very plot based, so I was scratching my head and wondering what was the point?

This is steampunk, thus we are in the world where the history went in alternate way from our world. The action is happening in the British Colonies, which I am guessing  never became or had not became yet the United States. I am really not sure what year it is, but we are in the city New Eddington. I am guessing that it is nineteenth century, but I am not sure. In fact I wished for the setting to be more detailed, because overall it was just confusing  and a little bit annoying to me. I love exploring alternate history scenarios, and here the author hints at something but never dives too deep if that makes sense. For example we are told that our two protagonists served in the Crimea War, which was horrible, really horrible, but we are never told who was the other party in the war.

One of the guys is Garreth Charles, journalist and newspaper owner and veteran of that mysterious Crimea war. He is shown to come to play cards at the countess’ house and here he meets Thomas Cole, whose luck at the tables is not nearly as good as Garreth’s. Garreth recognizes a fellow veteran, feels kingship for him and in two days he falls in love and thinks that he wants to spend his life with Cole. Do not get me wrong, this is actually far from being the worst of Insta!Love scenarios I have encountered before. In fact it totally made sense to me that two veterans would feel an immediate pull to each other. I would have even been okay with the Insta!Lust, but  two days and you think you want the other guy to stay with you for the rest of your life?

There are fires in the city and city is attempting to stop them with the firewalkers who are sitting in the firebugs machines  and use the foam to stop the fires, only the firebugs are not sturdy, and firewalkers have short life expectancy. Somebody tipped Garreth off about the fires, but instead of going to the government, Garreth decides to investigate on his own. He feels awfully guilty about it by the time he meets Cole, who is also incidentally a firewalker, because Garreth is not very successful with his investigations.  The police inspector of New Eddington decides that Garreth should be among the suspects because he is always there when fires start, and of course when Cole gets involved, things are getting really really hot for our heroes. This story had the potential to show us a really fun alternate history setting, only I felt that settings were barely sketched. This story had the potential to be a great mystery/action/adventure, only when I was supposed to be wondering who is behind the fires, I was thinking  oh wait, I already know that.

I had problems with characterizations in this one as well; for me both of the characters just were not given enough depth. Both guys are noble war veterans who have PTSD and fall in love with each other and really want to do the right thing, but that is all I learned about them. They did not feel to me like real people, they felt to me as characters in the book, if that makes sense. I could see that they are supposed to be really sympathetic and likeable human beings, but I just did not feel that these characters wanted to jump off the page. I did really like, though, that they were both in their forties, I always enjoy reading about older protagonists.

If you skip prologue,  I can see how this story can be enjoyed as a pretty decent plot based action/adventure/mystery in the not very detailed AU world.


  • Great review Sirius. I can’t stand Insta-love, and early reveals only work for me if a talented author gives us a great journey with the protags to their discovery. Sounds like that was not the case here.

    • Hi Lynn, no their journey would have and actually sort of worked for me when I did not know the villain, when I did, I have not noticed in depth psychological revelations or anything like that, it was wierd for me.

      And yes, love was instant, extremely instant, as I mentioned in the review, I would have totally believed instant friendship, sympathy, lust, but not stay with me for life after I had been known you for two days.

  • Hey, Sirius. I only read the Summary section, but that was enough. Early reveals of villains has got to be in the Top 3 of my Reading Pet Peeves. I just think, “Why the hell should I bother reading if you’re already gonna tell me who done it on page 1? Create some tension already!” Thanks for the heads up!

  • Well, well, welll…I was totally keen on reading this, and as a matter of fact i still am. Yet, thanks to your review, I know now what to expect (and what not), so thank you !

    • Any time Feliz, hope you like it if you decide to read it, just remember my mantra – skip the prologue :). Trust me, your reading experience would be much better that way.

      You know, it is funny, I meant to tell the story and forgot to do so in the review. Actually when I was reading it for the first time, I *did* skip the prologue, not by choice, I was reading PDF, then switching from one reader to another, to make a long story short i started with the first page.

      It still was not a perfect read for me, but it was probably 3.50-3.75 range.

      And then I started rereading and then I saw the prologue and it went down to 2.75 after first reread and fast 🙂

  • Thanks Sirius, you have saved my money here. There are too many personal minus points, baddie reveal, instant love ( very rarely excused ) and incomplete world building details!

    • Raine, I actually feel bad hearing that people may turn away from this one, plot wise it was not bad, except villain in the prologue felt so bizarre. 🙂 I mean, it was well enough written, yes I did not feel that characters were drawn in sufficient depth, but as long as you skip the prologue, there is a chance you may like it, maybe?

  • I can’t say the whole steampunk thing is grabbing me yet, but I did read this story and enjoyed it, although I understand what you’re saying in your review. The same things that bothered you didn’t bother me as much, I guess. I felt that the world building details were interesting and different, but didn’t overwhelm the romance, which is a good thing. I do agree that the guys fell in love a bit easily, but I found them to be sympathetic and fun to follow. Maybe another book set in the same world might fill in some gaps? I would read it! 🙂

  • Oh no, what a shame! 😮 I’ve been looking forward to this review as I was mad-keen to read the book based on the blurb. I like Kate Roman’s short stories, I find them well written and just right in terms of pacing. Wonder if the novel length was a bit too unwieldy for her this time.

    Revealing the villain right at the start seems a bit weird 😕 Thank you for such a thorough review Sirius. I’m glad I waited for your opinion, though I still might get the book. If I do, at least I know what I’m getting 🙂

    • Lesly you may like it, just remember to skip the prologue :). Let me know what you thought if you decide to get it 🙂


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