seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

Review: Child of Fire

This is the same review I just posted to Amazon for Child of Fire, burger_eaters first novel.

Very simple spoiler-free summary: Despite the typical urban-fantasy setup (world like ours, secret magical background, first-person narrator), Child of Fire manages some highly inventive twists on both the plotline and the worldbuilding level, with a flavor that compares well to a combination of Jim Butcher's Dresden novels, hard-boiled detective stories, and some of Dean Koontz' horror novels. Loses one star partly because I find it a bit too dark overall, and because there are elements I feel needed more explanation/backgrounding/detail. Note that I DON'T get the feeling the author doesn't KNOW those explanations, they just aren't in the story and in some cases I think the book suffers -- very slightly -- from this lack. Nonetheless, an excellent first try out the gate.


Ray Lilly, the main character, is clearly a man in trouble. He's working for someone who, we soon learn, is effectively superhuman in a number of ways, and who (at least initially) hates him enough to want him dead, and only leaves him alive because he's useful. For now.

This is one of the weak points of the book, in that the exact sequence of events that led to Ray being in this position is often referred to, obliquely, and we get small pieces of it, but never, really, a full understanding of how it all happened, why, where, and how he came into contact with the hidden magical world and the "Twenty Palace Society" that tries to keep the dangers of magic under control. There's a huge amount of implied background here, and not quite enough exposition to make me feel like I understand the world.

Note that this is also a stylistic and personal author choice; some people may very well PREFER this sketchy background and expect only to see it "filled in" as a series progresses. I just like more of my worldbuilding up front.

In any case, Ray and his boss Annalise are, in essence, hunters of mystical "predators" -- mystical *things* that could be thought of as demons, and have been, but are actually something more like alien invaders and parasites who if not kept under control could destroy the world swiftly. Their first encounter with their new assignment is to see a child burst into flames in front of his parents... and then discover that despite having not only witnessed it and suffered burns, the parents and rest of the family now HAVE NO MEMORY of even having a child. Their investigation quickly takes them to a small town now prospering in what might seem an almost storybook fashion on the surface... but darker and darker undersides to discover.

Ray's "voice" is very much in the line of hardboiled detectives, something like a more cynical Archie Goodwin. He's a man who's done time in prison and while he has morals and basically decent sensibilities is not one to shrink much from some pretty hard-line action. While he's not at all incapable of using his fists or a gun, his most powerful -- and most inventive -- weapon is the result of the one magical spell he has ever cast, a little piece of paper which the spell has turned into a "ghost knife" -- a blade that can cut magic and unliving materials, but won't harm the living. The ghost knife is a very interesting mystical trick and invaluable for Ray's work.

The other manifestations of magic we get to see through the book are also interesting, ranging from a particular type of werewolf to mystical tattoos that protect people from physical or mental injury, and the particular disquieting enhancements given to Annalise Powliss, Ray's boss. Annalise, despite being terrifyingly more formidable than Ray, ends up very badly injured due to not realizing the full capabilities of the "predator" behind the current case, and this forces Ray to do most of the work -- and in the end, to deal with a mystical predator so powerful that its reach extends across miles and hundreds of minds.

The action is tightly plotted and very well described; you can "see" many events quite clearly. The other characters he encounters are drawn well, even if for only the few pages they appear.

As I said earlier, aside from the minimalist approach to revealing Ray's full background, the overall dark tone of the book was the only other negative for me. Some people will vastly prefer this tone, so it's not necessarily a bad thing. The final resolution is well done, just not as upbeat as I prefer my endings; I like the Bad Things destroyed, most of the damage put right, and this isn't really quite the case here.

Still, a very good book and I recommend it to any into urban fantasy or modern supernatural horror (related but not identical subgenres).

So overall, good job! Hope Ray gets some additional appearances in the future.
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