Monday, December 28, 2009

Review – Smolder by Melina Morel

Vengeance has its price. But you pay for passion forever...

Descended from werewolf hunters, Catherine Marais has vanquished countless of their vile kind-including the one that slaughtered her father. Her debt of blood and honor was fulfilled-but her heart is empty.

The only one who ignites Catherine's passion is Ian-a handsome, elegant vampire whose seductive touch she cannot resist. But when he offers her the dark temptation of eternal commitment to each other, Catherine must look within her heart-and her truest desires-to find the answers she seeks...
Smolder is the third book in Melina Morel’s Institut Scientifique urban fantasy series. I confess that I had not read the previous books in the series, Devour (2007) and Prey (2008), but found that to be no obstacle to easily slipping into the story. Smolder and the series is set in contemporary Europe, primarily France, which presents a refreshing backdrop from the usual North American backdrops. The Institut based in Geneva, researches the secret supernatural races and funds Hunters to protect humanity from the werewolves. Vampires and other shapeshifters are allies in the defense against the predations of the werewolves.

Catherine Marais is a Hunter, one of the most successful in Europe and a member of the aristocracy of France. In fact the majority of the members of the secret Institut are from aristocratic and privileged places in society. This creates an ambience that is both elegant and reminiscent of the Bruce Wayne style of honour and dedication to the cause. The pacing of the story moves along briskly, with a number of subplots running concurrently, each contributing to the build up of intrigue and tension.

The werewolves are themselves on the hunt for Catherine after a dying wolf helps create a sketch of Catherine after his deadly encounter. This puts Catherine at risk and forces increased security measures as attacks and encounters increase. Added to this mix, Catherine’s sixteen year old niece Solange is crushing on an older boy, Luc, a family acquaintance, whose connection to the their adversaries is unclear but may put her at risk.

I laughed out loud at this thought from Catherine as she contemplates her niece’s actions –
Dear God thought Catherine. Dealing with teenagers made hunting werewolves seem easy by comparison.
We further see the humour in the generational gap when Luc has an argument with his father –
"Your whole generation is too political," Luc said with a shrug. "All you guys care about it the pecking order. Who's sucking up to the boss. Who's going to win the prize for werewolf of the year. Jesus! You might as well be the werewolf branch of the chamber of commerce."
We are introduced to Ian Morgan, a 200 year old vampire and Catherine’s lover and protector, who while not exactly pressuring her, is encouraging her to be turned. She is not averse to the idea but retains many reservations and struggles with the irreversible changes it will mean to her life and family relationships. This is definitely where the Smolder of the title enters the picture. Un-surprisingly the erotic interludes are relatively low key and intimate.

Points of view shift frequently to give us insight into Catherine, her niece, her niece’s boyfriend, the werewolf leaders and numerous skirmishes involving different werewolves and members of the Institut. As a reader, I like to see the big picture and it again is a nice change from the more restrictive first-person POV. The many threads converge as the werewolves identify Catherine, Solange becomes ensared in events and the werewolves plan an ultimate act of revenge. The concluding scenes are quite dramatic with a cinematic quality to them that would be great on the big screen.

Although Smolder does not introduce a lot of new or original world-building, its strength is the delivery of a highly enjoyable action-oriented story with interesting, eclectic characters and a little paranormal romance. Smolder is the perfect panacea for readers looking to stir and warm the blood a little in the coming winter months.


Penguin Group (USA)
Published: January 5, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pages (ARC): 313
ISBN-13: 9780451228802

Institut Scientifique Series:
  1. Devour (2007)
  2. Prey (2008)
  3. Smolder (Jan. 2010)


  1. Great review. I haven't heard of this series, but I'll definetly be on the lookout.

  2. Thanks for the mention of the book. It sounds like something I may enjoy. I am going to have to look into the first two as well. I have not heard of them before. Thanks!

  3. Greetings Doug - Just out of curiosity, do you often start series out of order? I admit that I used to do it ALL THE TIME, but I've since weened myself off the habit. I've found that it's a hard vow to keep, especially when I pick up new titles and it's not obvious that it's the 3rd, 4th, or 5th book in a series.

    The reason I've stopped doing it on purpose - it still happens by accident - is that I wasn't sure how to review a book that doesn't stand on its own. I kept wondering, is it fair to knock a sequel for not allowing readers to jump in? I decided it's not.

    However, like all good rules I've made some exceptions. I've found that it's certainly easier to jump into the middle of a couple-driven PNR that features new protagonists each installment, versus an urban fantasy series that follows one hero/heroine. Can you imagine reading the Rachel Morgan series out of order? Yikes! That'd muck it up pretty good.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble, but when I read the second sentence of your review, it made me reflect on how hard it is to review new titles when we haven't read all the previous books. As much as I'd like to do that, it's an impossible trick to pull off.

    BTW, I agree - waaayy too many series are set in the U.S. Even if it requires a truck-load of extra research, I wish authors would branch out to exotic locales more often. I want to go to Mexico City, or Morocco, or Hong Kong. Take me somewhere new.

  4. Dannie I hadn't either until a few months ago but I am glad I did. Melina will be interviewed here next week.

    Melissa if you get a chance to read them, let me know. I'd be interested on your take.

    Rebecca generally I don't read series books out of order IF the central characters are the same from book to book. This is usually the case with most UF. However, I find PNR books often use a shared world but vary the characters from book to book and I am usually willing to give those a shot out of order. That is certainly the case with Smolder.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with reviewing a book and telling the reader it doesn't stand on its own. We are after all now the products of episodic television. Some authors (very few) actually provide a synopsis or prologue at the beginning of their books which catches the new reader up. I wish more authors would do this. Even if I have read the previous books, I find that the long time periods between new books makes this VERY helpful.

    That said I agree that something is definitely lost when you jump into a series with characters that have history, shared experiences and have matured and changed over the course of a series.

    The growth of UF has made it impossible to keep up with every installment of every series so the difficulty is likely to increase. I'd love when I discover a series in progress that I missed, to go back and read the earlier books before I review the latest but who has that kind of time. The challenges of a reviewer :)

    I am with you on the foreign locales, it adds an extra dimension to the story. Marjorie Liu is good at it, Jocelynn Drake's Dark Days series does it, but it would be certainly nice to see more author's branch out.

  5. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this subject Doug, so thanks. Back when I first started writing reviews I took a lot of heat from LA Banks fans for seriously criticizing a second installment that gave zero background for new readers. The prevailing view seemed to be that I had no right to review a book without reading the prequel, and while that's a nice sentiment, it doesn't always happen.

    There is one great side-benefit of starting established series in order though - I find it's really easy to get my hands on those early books for cheap or free - either at the library or on PaperBackSwap. There's my silver lining for the day!

  6. Hi Doug!

    LOL!! Another great review!! I can't wait to pick this one up, anyone who writes about comparing kids to werewolves already has my vote!!

    Thanks for a great review!

    Dottie :)

  7. Different stokes for different folks. Thanks so much for sharing your review on my site. I owe you :)

  8. Rebecca well it is always difficult to respond to "trufans" who are not always rational in their perspective. I think every author doing a series owes the reader at least minimum effort to provide missing background even if it is repetitive for long time readers.I love discovering new series with a backlist although it happens rarely these days in the urban fantasy area. It is great to dive into a series without having to wait a year between books.

    Dottie the secondary plot with the teens adds a lot to the story. I liked those characters.

    Abigail no problem. Diversity of opinion on books adds spice and interest and is why we do it.

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  10. This is a really well written article.


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