Anthony Ryan, the “New York Times bestselling author” of the Raven’s Shadow books, has written a new book to start a brand new series in a very different setting than his previous efforts. Dragons are hunted for their blood, which give one in every thousand amazing powers, and help power the machinery of this new world. Corporations rule, and monarchy is a ridiculed and outmoded way of governing. However, there is a lot more going on than even the largest corporate nations can imagine, and so we begin a new series which will stretch to three or four books.
The Waking Fire is the first book in Ryan’s Draconis Memoria, and I am utterly confused as to what I think.
Firstly, I loved this book. Each POV character was mesmerising, and we never spent too much time with any of them. Their lives were fascinating, their responsibilities daunting, and Ryan writes them so well that you walk away genuinely feeling for each of them. The world itself is fascinating, with dragons-blood a highly-prized commodity, turned into “product” which, depending on the colour of dragon it was taken from, gives the Blood-blessed user a different power. The corporate world in which the book is set provides a new way to look at industrial revolution-era fantasy, while still retaining the spies, navy’s, soldiery, and diplomatic subterfuge that is part-and-parcel of pitting various nations against one another.
However, despite all of this, I found this book excessively contrived. Historical accounts of characters just happened to appear in POVs set in widely-separated nations; POV characters end up just happening to run across each other (in ways that any reader saw coming a mile away); the machinery and magic of-the-day is a solution to any and every problem, except when it isn’t so that certain other plot-lines can continue unhindered.
I will note that I read an “uncorrected proof” copy from the publishers, and so some of these things and the myriad editorial mistakes may likely have been remedied between my copy and copies on shelves. But having loved Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow series for its intricate plot lines, three-dimensional characters, and Steven Erikson-like grasp on natural storytelling, I was quite surprised to find this book much more in the vein of a 1990s young-adult novel.
Contrivance is an unfortunate necessity in fiction, making one of the author’s goals to hide his or her necessary contrivance as much as possible. We don’t mind that Frodo didn’t jump on the back of an eagle and drop into Mordor with the One Ring, because of the way in which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. We (mostly) don’t mind the fact that Harry Potter seemed preternaturally incapable of giving Dumbledore all of the facts because of the way in which J.K. Rowling wrote. In both cases, the contrivance was hidden, mostly, and excused when it peeked through the curtains of the authors’ prose. In The Waking Fire, however, there was little effort to hide the author’s contrivance, making it difficult to remain in a happy suspension of disbelief.
Despite this, however, my first point remains – I loved this book. The characters were fun and well-rounded, the world itself a fascinating entity I cannot wait to explore further, and the underlying plot one that is likely to be world-shattering unless our intrepid heroes can save everything.
So that leaves me nevertheless recommending this book in the hope that maybe certain inadequacies were cleared up between the uncorrected proof I read and retail copies, and in the hope that future books in the series do not bear the oh-so-obvious scars of authorial contrivance.
Review by Joshua S Hill
The Waking Fire
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Simon from Belgium
I listened to the audiobook and - this has never happened before - couldn't finish listening to the entire novel. Maybe it was the dull way it was being read, but after 40 chapters, it decided it was enough. I think I gave it a fair chance, seeing as there were 53 chapters to the entire book. The characters were interesting a t first, but somewhere down the story I stopped caring. I really think it has something to do with the guy reading though. Steven Brand. Not my bag.
Bob from UK
All that gets corrected between the proof and the book on the shelf are typos.
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