The Fire Rose (1995)
[Based on “Beauty and the Beast”.]
[The San Francisco Earthquake occurs towards the end of this story, so this must be set in 1906.]
Rosalind (Rose) Hawkins is a scholar of classical languages at the University in Chicago. But then her father dies, leaving her penniless. When she is offered a job as a governess in San Francisco, teaching the children of a wealthy rail baron, Jason Cameron, she has little choice, but to accept.
Arriving at Cameron’s mansion, outside the city of San Francisco, she discovers the job is not what she has been told. There are no children. Her job is to read various books, in various languages, to her employer, via a speaking tube, and to translate books which are in languages that Cameron doesn’t know. She never sees him; he is confined to his own suite of rooms in the mansion. There seem to be many servants, but she never sees them; apparently they do their tasks when she isn’t looking. She only ever sees Cameron’s secretary, the sinister Paul du Mond. She learns that Jason Cameron had suffered some accident, leaving him disfigured.
The nature of the books she reads leads Rose to suspect that Cameron is attempting to heal himself with magic and alchemy.
But we, the readers, learn (before Rose does), that Jason Cameron is a Fire Master. He had attempted to turn himself into a werewolf, of the kind which can transform at will, and retain his human consciousness while in wolf-form. But the spell had gone wrong, and he is now stuck as a man-wolf hybrid. He can no longer hold things easily, and his transformed eyes cannot focus on books. This is why he had employed Rose, to try to locate a spell which could turn him back into a man.
Paul du Mond is Cameron’s apprentice, training to also become a Fire Master. But du Mond is lazy, unwilling to submit to the discipline required to reach that status. Also, we soon discover, he is cruel and unscrupulous. Periodically he is required to go into the city to buy supplies, and conduct business for Cameron. But secretly he is meeting with Cameron’s rival Fire Master, Simon Beltaire, who is also unscrupulous and cruel.
Rose starts to wonder about the magic described in the books she is reading: is magic real? And why are the servants invisible? She puts these questions to Cameron, who tells her that magic is real, and explains what had happened to him. And the invisible servants are Salamanders, the Elemental creatures of Fire. But now she knows about them, they make themselves visible to her.
From then on, Rose understands better how to do her job. Cameron starts to teach her magic. They discover that her magical nature is in the Element of Air, with the related Elemental creatures being Sylphs.
Cameron decides to send du Mond to the city permanently, ostensibly to oversee one of his businesses, but actually because du Mond is unpleasant and lazy, and Cameron doesn’t think he can teach him any more magic. Du Mond is happy to go, so he can be Beltaire’s apprentice instead. Beltaire has offered him a shortcut to Mastery, involving sex and drugs.
When Rose returns from a trip to the city, the Salamanders call her into Cameron’s suite. This is the first time she has seen him. She finds him ill and in pain; he had attempted another spell to turn himself back, but it had failed. Rose looks after him and helps him recover.
Rose and Jason are falling in love with each other. But each thinks separately that such a relationship will not work. Will Cameron be able to reverse the spell? And are Beltaire and du Mond planning something nasty for them?