What Possessed Her?

This week marked the debut of Jenn Burke’s debut novel, the paranormal romance, Her Sexy Sentinel. Jenn and I spend a lot of time talking to each other about our projects (or trying to have a conversation in which autocorrect doesn’t plot new characters and universes) and this book was no exception. But after reading the bright and shiny finished version, I had a few questions left over.

Jenn graciously set aside some time to answer them. Thankfully, she didn’t use her phone to do so!

What’s the story behind the story? Why did you decide to write about a magical community in Ottawa?

I love books and stories that set magic in the “real world”. They’re the ones that seem to stick with me, because they challenge me to wonder if maybe, just maybe, magic is real. Maybe. (Probably not.) Some of my favourite books or series that follow this sort of theme are:

The Dark is Rising (and the rest of that series) by Susan Cooper

Moonheart by Charles de Lint (also set in Ottawa)

Diana Tregarde Investigates by Mercedes Lackey

Blood Price (and the rest of the Vicki Nelson series) by Tanya Huff (actually, just read pretty much any UF by Tanya Huff…she’s awesome)

Jewels of the Sun (and the rest of the Gallaghers of Ardmore series) by Nora Roberts

There are so many more, but I’ll stop there.

And why Ottawa? Mostly because I’ve lived here for almost 30 years. Also, I liked the idea of my little, boring, government-centric city being a hotbed for magic. It tickles my sense of the absurd.

What inspired you to put a portal to hell under Parliament Hill?

In one of my early drafts, I had the portal out in the woods on the outskirts of Ottawa. Out of the way, easy to keep a secret, and so on. But it struck me that the main landmark that differentiates Ottawa from every other city on the planet is Parliament Hill—so why not take advantage of that setting? I picked up the portal and tucked it into the base of the hill on the edge of the Ottawa River. You can actually walk down there—the bike and walking path I mention in the book does exist. There’s no cave with a hell portal though. As far as I know…

Who is Callie?

I don’t know if I really had an inspiration for Callie. I didn’t want her to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer, confident in her abilities and easily able to kick demon ass. I wanted her to be a little less strong. As much as I love Buffy, and as much as I think we’ve all got untapped reserves of strength we can draw on when we need to, I think we’ve all got some inherent weakness, too. And fear. I mean, if you were suddenly confronted with the idea of magic, wouldn’t you be scared—at least at first? It would throw your perception of the world into utter disarray. I wanted to write someone who had that reaction but managed to claw her way back to a new sense of normal.

What is Callie’s dream (before Derrick)? What did she want to do with her life?

Callie was pretty unambitious, actually. She wanted to live on Prince Edward Island, close to her brother and niece. She wanted to have a steady job that kept her busy, even if it wasn’t challenging. She wanted to have someone to come home to at the end of the day who she could love and care for. In short, she wanted a simple, uncomplicated life. I don’t think she realized how unsatisfying it was until she returned to Ottawa and got sucked into events surrounding the magical Community.

Tell us about Derrick’s t-shirts. Where did the first one come from and does he have a collection? Does he think of his shirts as a collection?

Absolutely, he thinks of his shirts as a collection! He started collecting them when he became a Knight, to remind himself there was more to his life than just magic and demons. Programming and computers are his refuge because they’re completely logical and though a lot of his t-shirts are funny, they’re also anchors to that aspect of the world.

His favourite is his “There’s no place like 127.0.0.1” shirt. He’s got two of that one. Just in case one gets trashed by a demon.

Do all Knights wield a spiorad? What is it made of?

Yes, all Knights wield a spiorad, or spirit blade. It’s a weapon forged from the will of the Knight and just as deadly as a metal sword. The Knight can shape it into any simple form he wishes (so no guns or anything).

What other roles are there in the Community?

Ottawa is the only Community that has a Magus and a Knight, thanks to the presence of the portal. Other than the Council of Elders, Community roles tend to be loosely defined. Elders in the Community who do not serve on the Council may act as mentors and guides for magic-users who just recently discovered the Community or the Community’s children. Other individuals serve as archivists and record-keepers, making sure the history of the Community remains accurate and relevant.

What’s next for Derrick and Callie, any hints? The Community?

Tough to say without revealing spoilers! I’ll just say that I have ideas…we’ll see what the future brings.

What’s next for you?

Well, Kelly, as you know—since we wrote it together!—I have another book coming out on March 2. CHAOS STATION starts a science-fiction romance series featuring a broken super soldier reuniting with his best friend, a former POW, after a devastating galactic war. It’s got adventure and drama and a steamy romance that never fails to make me sigh with happiness…no matter how many times I’ve read it! The second book in that series, LONELY SHORE, will be out in May 2015.


I reviewed Her Sexy Sentinel on Monday. You can read the first chapter Entangled Publishing website.

Review: Her Sexy Sentinel by Jenn Burke

Her Sexy Sentinel (Entangled Covet)

The most dangerous thing they could do is fall in love…

Callie Noble fled to Ottawa to escape danger. But she is far from safe. Overwhelmed by a strange new power she can’t control, Callie is terrified and painfully incapacitated. Her only hope is to seek the help of the one man who broke her heart…

Derrick Llewellyn is one of the Sentinels charged with the protection of the city’s mysterious secret. Seeing Callie again is a shock enough, but the electricity between them is stronger than ever. Still, loving another marked individual is forbidden, and Callie needs his help—not romantic complications.

But there are forces at work in the city, and Callie finds herself inexorably drawn into a world filled with danger and untold magics. A world where loving Derrick isn’t just forbidden…it’s the surest way to drive them both mad.

Jenn Burke is my writing partner and super-duper friend, so I’ve read this book three times, each a different version. Honestly, I liked the first as much as I did this last, because though I know Jenn worked hard to produce a novel that satisfied her, I’ll always love her stories regardless of polish—and I have a list of reasons why which will serve as my review of Her Sexy Sentinel.

Characters

Jenn’s characters are living, breathing entities. I know what they look like and a few pages in, I feel their perspective. I get them. That doesn’t mean they can’t surprise me. They do, all the time, and that only makes them more human.

In Her Sexy Sentinel, we spend most of our time with Callie and Derrick, but Chris, Risa and the other supporting characters are more than thin templates used to support the plot. They’re people, too, which is why I really hope Jenn continues this series one day so I can continue to read their adventures.

I adore Derrick. Skimming other reviews, I was disappointed not to find more love for him. Am I the only person who loves White Knights? Men so enamoured of honour and principle that you can’t decide whether to slap them or kiss them—possibly do both at the same time. Men—or indeed, characters—you can trust to have your back, no matter what, because they stick by their every annoying word. This is a man who throws strength at his doubts, who armours himself against hurt. If anything, he’s annoyingly human. But so is Callie. Her refusal to accept the existence of magic, let alone the fact she is suddenly imbued with it, is refreshing. She doesn’t immediately fall in with the plan and her struggle to accept her magic self is as fraught as her journey to find her actual self. This is her epiphany, her moment. The cusp that will change the rest of her life. No, she doesn’t deal graciously, and that’s why she’s so appealing. We feel her confusion and her anger.

Plot

Jenn’s imagination never fails to astound me. She doesn’t just hang a story off a romance plot. Her books tell stories in which people happen to meet and fall in love—while they’re doing all kinds of other cool stuff.

I love the plot of Her Sexy Sentinel. I love the suggestion that there is another world out there, right under our noses. Portals to other realms—whether they are planes or alternate realities, interdimensional portals, I don’t care. Our world is full of mysteries and I love the idea that we don’t always look to the most logical answer. That maybe there is a gate to hell under parliament hill. It probably connects to the basement of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and from there you can take an express planar blip under the Atlantic.

Jenn deftly handles the issue of magic versus mundane. Her Community exists to serve all of Ottawa, but only those with a touch of magic know what’s really going on. There are some lovely metaphors there.

Romance

Jenn writes sizzling sex scenes. Seriously, they’re hot. And, in Her Sexy Sentinel, we get Magic Sex. Yep, we need capitals there. The world—and fiction—needs more Magic Sex.

Beyond the extraordinary, though, what I love about the romance in this book is the built-in panic button. There is nothing more enticing in a romance novel than the quandary of: they want to, but they can’t. That being said, the reasons why they can’t have to be compelling enough to make it work, to make all that hot and lusty tension worthwhile. Forbidden love is a good reason, particularly when one of your characters is all rightly honourable and the other hasn’t a clue. And when they’re attracted to one another to a ridiculous degree. Throw in the fact they nearly got it together before, but didn’t—and also never forgot the fact that they didn’t—and the pot of tension is bubbling over.

I actually texted Jenn as one point to express my EXTREME disappointment that I had flipped the page to discover it was the next morning. Why was it the next morning and why hadn’t they had sex yet? Of course, my reward was the scene worth waiting for.

It’s hard to review a book when you know the author. But it’s always a pleasure to read and review a book that I genuinely like and want to share with my friends. I recommend Her Sexy Sentinel for fans of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. I don’t think it’s beyond the grasp of a Contemporary Romance, reader, however. This isn’t a book that requires a lengthy glossary of terms. Jenn doesn’t baffle her readers with incomprehensible lore. Her writing is clear, concise and full of emotive encouragement. I really hope she returns to this world.