Rachel Caine,
Weather Warden
#2: Heat Stroke

(Roc, 2004)

At the end of Rachel Caine's first Weather Warden book, Ill Wind, her heroine Joanne Baldwin, Weather Warden and defender of the natural order, died.

She got better, immediately being reborn as djinn, a nigh-omnipotent magical being. Ill Wind ended with Joanne more powerful than ever, in the arms of her djinn lover, safe from all the magical and legal persecution that had plagued her.

Heat Stroke opens with almost the same situation, except that Joanne is now also reunited with her beloved car. If things continued along those lines, the series would be pointless, so the complications start coming thick and fast. Joanne's transition to the life of the djinn is not without cost; it seems she's bleeding her energy away from her djinn partner David. The existing djinn power hierarchy doesn't like her existence at all, the only evidence of a similar human transfer has resulted in a walking nightmare, and the fabric of the universe seems to be unraveling. Even these problems shouldn't be too hard for a couple of powerful djinn to deal with, but as Joanne soon discovers, she's not that powerful, and being a djinn has limitations.

Much of the first third of the book is spent dealing with those limitations, especially the heightened senses that apparently go along with Joanne's new magical status. Coupled with her established hedonistic nature, this makes Heat Stroke literature for the nerve endings, loaded with soft erotica and long passages of sensual exploration that will send a thrill up your spine if you're in the mood for such things and run a cheese grater along your patience if you're not.

Even if Heat Stroke catches you in the mood, warden Joanne's obsession with the world of the senses leaves her motivations, and in turn her plot, a bit thin. When not engaged in saving the world, Joanne focuses the totality of her being on clothes, candy and other bits of hedonism. The resulting blend of strength and superficiality makes for frequently unappealing character, which makes it hard to accept all the fuss generated over her throughout the book. And unlike Ill Wind, which felt complete on its own, Heat Stroke suffers from sequelitis, with a woefully broken ending and wide assortment of loose ends.

But the strange weaknesses of Joanne's character only begins to grate when the action slows. Aside from a large chunk of self-exploration at the start of the book, Caine keeps things lively, moving from disaster to crisis to catastrophe with enough momentum to keep Joanne, David and her readers from untangling the threads of a mystery that would be simple, if only there was time to think about it. There are double crosses, nefarious characters, mystic histories revealed and an occasional bit of banter that approaches the realm of witty. Heat Stroke isn't great literature by any means, but it's frequently high drama.

by Sarah Meador
7 October 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.