Now that’s what I’m talking about! The promise of the futuristic 2176 series, not quite fulfilled by Susan Grant’s Banzai Maguire, is more than adequately met by Kathleen’s Nance second installment, Day of Fire. A fully-realized futuristic setting, a kick-butt heroine and a tantalizing hero combine to make this a rollicking good read.
More than one hundred years after a devastating bio-plague decimated Canada’s population and forced the closing of the country’s borders, unrest is developing among the citizens. Many are egged on by the mysterious Voice of Freedom, whose broadcasts encourage people around the world to rebel. When Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman Day Daniels and her partner Luc Robichaux investigate a rumored meeting of the “No-Borders” who hope to end Canada’s isolation, Luc is killed. The search for Luc’s murderer leads Day to a dingy tech-bar, where she discovers, to her dismay, that she is being ordered to take on a new partner: Dr. Lian Firebird, a plague hunter.
Mounties and plague hunters are naturally wary of each other, thanks to a century of turf issues and conflicting personalities. But while Day is reluctant to trust former No-Border Lian, and the plague hunter considers the small but fierce Mountie to be an uptight, inflexible “stiff-brim,” they are forced to work together. Traces of smallpox virus were found on Luc’s hat, and evidence indicates that a fresh epidemic is about to be unleashed on the Canadian population. Day and Lian are in race against time to find the ruthless killer who would threaten the health and security that the people of Canada have struggled so hard to regain.
Day of Fire is 375 pages of fast-paced action, as Day and Lian travel across the wilds of Canada to track their quarry. Nance does an excellent job of creating a believable futuristic world that blends new technologies and inventions with ageless fears of contamination and illness. When Day remarks that Canadians rarely congregate in large groups anymore, it’s a chilling portrayal of a future that could very well become reality, given the panic demonstrated in our own country during the anthrax scare of 2001.
Nance also earns high marks for the romance between Day and Lian. Despite mutual mistrust, the two slowly learn to work together, and their relationship’s emotional intensity is reminiscent of Justine Davis’ best work. The conflict keeping them apart is largely external; Day, a plague survivor who was adopted as a child by a Mountie, is fiercely loyal to her profession, while Lian’s mysterious background leaves him with responsibilities that will inevitably take him far away from the realm of Mountie authority. Nance does resort to a few cheesy moments as she tries to capture the pair’s chemistry; I couldn’t help laughing every time Lian went into raptures about Day smelling like maple sugar. Likewise, Lian insisting he had to “mark” Day with his scent so her pet wolf wouldn’t attack him was one of the worst pickup lines I’ve ever heard. But when Nance sticks with the basics of the relationship between two strong, honorable individuals, she’s on solid ground.
If the hallmark of the 2176 series is tough, kick-ass heroines, Day Daniels definitely fits the bill. Brave without being foolhardy, she rescues Lian as often as he comes to her aid. Although she was traumatized by the loss of her parents to the plague, she doesn’t engage in pointless soul-searching about its impact on her personality and actions. Then, of course, there’s that maple sugar scent…makes you curious about her diet, doesn’t it? She’s suitably matched by Lian Firebird, who can diagnose and treat a sick person with one hand, and shoot the bad guys with another. Towards the second half of the book, the truth about Lian’s heritage leads to a little bit too much New Age drivel, but for the most part he rises above the clichés.
Banzai Maguire appears in the novel only as a symbol, and readers unfamiliar with Susan Grant’s initial series offering will not be left behind. But with the series off to such a strong start, why wouldn’t you want to read both books?