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Young Adult Book of the Month, September 2011
Blue Fire Burning, written by Hobb Whittons and published by AuthorHouse in 2011, is a work of high fantasy, ambitious in its intent and an example of self-publishing done very well.
In the dead of night, a covered wagon driven by a hooded, faceless being is careering through the forest at breakneck speed. Inside the wagon, sit two jittery Goblin men: Grot and Mouldy. Suddenly, the contents of the sack they are staring at begin to glow...
Consumed by the desire for revenge, the Goblins' wicked Dark Mistress sets diminutive winged telepaths, the Pahleen, a riddle they must work out if they are to get back what they have lost and save the world known as Wadjamaat.
Desperately, King Kilron searches high and low but finds no clue. Then, something unexpected happens in Haggles Cove and the race is on again... but there is a sting in the tail. To have a chance of succeeding, Kilron must now face the prospect of doing something always forbidden to his ancient race.
Meanwhile, unaware of the planet's 'ticking clock', the cosmopolitan human population of the walled naval port of Bellana are busy getting their wondrous Mermaid Stadium ready for the grand Argia Final. With canine companion Wolf in tow, country girl Hahmi Merkin gets a hostile reception when she enters the city. She heads for the sanctuary of blacksmith friend, Aristide Brindle's house where she leaves her horse and cart. Entrusted with his son's 'paddywhack', she sets off for the stadium. What happens after that is beyond even her wildest imagining...
Self-published books get a bad press and sadly, more often than not, it is well deserved. The problem is of course that there is little or no quality control, with the result being that there are thousands of books in print - all vying for reviews and coverage - that are in all honesty not very good. And this makes it very difficult for the authors of quality self-published works to get noticed as they are deemed guilty by association. But if the book is good enough - and those behind it persistent enough - there is still a chance. Blue Fire Burning by Hobb Whittons is an example of how self-publishing can be used to produce a quality book that deserves to be taken as seriously as the fantasy books that come out from the major publishers.
Let's start with the cover. People DO judge a book by its cover. For those who find having the dust jacket designed by a professional beyond their means the best advice is to keep it simple. DO NOT use the dreadful computer-game visuals that many opt for, or write everything in an awful flowing font across the book - take a look at the cover of Blue Fire Burning - simple yet effective, creating the right first impression.
And attention to detail is evident in all areas.
When I began reading the first chapter I was impressed by the storytelling style and the effort taken to create distinct characters and locations. In short, the book had done its job, the presentation and first chapter were of such a high standard that I was happy to read the book through to its very last page. So I contacted the author to let him know the good news and asked if he would be happy to answer a few of my questions as I read through the book.
Blue Fire Burning is a big book (486 pages) whose story is told through multiple viewpoints. The story begins with an introduction to the evil Nocturna and her two Goblin henchmen Grot and Mouldy. These two goblins became my favourites and I was interested to see that the author had decided to write their dialogue in an as-it-sounds style. Here is an example:
"Wuddy ’ell Mouldy, she fwightens me summat dweadful when she duz that,’ said the larger of the two, rubbing the spot where his left ear used to be.
"Mouldy replaced his black eye patch, covering up the pale, crinkly bit of tissue that had once been the lid of his missing right goggler. He scratched his goateed chin and glanced nervously at the rounded bulge in the sack in his lap.
"Yeah, me too. It’s the maleficence behind it wot puts the jelly in us bellies,’ he said, parading the cleverest word he had in his limited mental dictionary. Grot did not need to verbalise his unfamiliarity with his partner’s choice literary morsel. The gormless look said it all. Mouldy sighed wearily."
This could have been a catastrophic choice and if done badly would have made parts of the book unreadable. So, intrigued, I asked Whittons this question:
The first two characters you meet when you begin reading Blue Fire Burning are goblins. You chose to write their dialogue in precisely the way it would sound to the ear. This is a method that works when done well (which I am pleased to say is certainly the case here) but can make for excruciating reading when done badly. Was this approach something you deliberated about for a long time or were you clear from the outset as to how these characters would speak?
To which he answered:
"There wasn't really any deliberation. That's how Grot and Mouldy spoke to me when they sprang to life in my head, so that's the way I wanted the readers to hear them. For me, choosing to 'sanitise' their speech would have meant ripping away far too much of their personalities. I'd have been left with a pair of watered-down imitations; not Grot and Mouldy.
"Grot, in particular, was a joy to write for. I had loads of fun with him and his 'Wossyitis'. He was a 'blank cheque'. Nothing escapes his 'wumpled' tongue - not even alliteration!"
And so the book begins very well indeed and after an introduction to the main protagonists paths begin to cross as Hahmi heads to Bellana for the grand Argia Final at the Mermaid Stadium. Any team game incorporated into a fantasy novel will of course immediately draw comparisons with the game of quidditch from the Harry Potter series and to counteract this Whittons has really gone to town and created a new game whose rules, to the newcomer, must appear as complicated as the game of football does to the uninitiated. I asked Hobb to describe, as succinctly as possible, the game of rules of argia, to which he replied:
"Argia is a game, played on a water 'pitch', in which two teams of four standing players paddling on 'coughdrops' (large, kayak-shaped rafts) try to gain possession of a wooden ring (the argia) and attack their opponents' 'fivem'.
"The fivem - a 30ft pole with a protruding ice hockey-like goal ('bonnet') bolted on close to the top - yields points when the following things happen:
After points have been scored, the teams regroup in their own halves and a new argia is catapulted into the 'swim off circle' in the centre of the pitch. Two players - one from each side - dive off their coughdrops and race to be first to the ring.
It's a highly skillful contact sport that's packed with thrills and spills. Slick passing and pinpoint shooting are punctuated, with tick-tocking regularity, by slamming tackles that send players flying from their coughdrops. Picturing Merlins and Rays adversaries thrashing about in the water, in pursuit of a stray argia, I'm drawn to the conclusion that what I've created is a superspunky, unworldly hybrid; a union of water polo, oddball kayaking and hurling - with a few unique ingredients of my own thrown in for good measure. Sky Sports would love it!"
If you loved quidditch, you will love argia.
After the agria final is over we have the cast pretty much in place and threads begin to part and converge as the battle between and good and evil escalates into a war.
As I am sure you can tell, I was very impressed by Blue Fire Burning and would recommend that older children and adults young and old read it. But of course, my role as a reviewer always leads me to point out any negatives that I felt were to be found. When reviewing a self-published book I often wonder what a publisher such as Random House would do should they decide to take it on. In this instance I think they would decide that the book was rather too long and the cast of characters too large. They would embark on a ruthless edit, removing any characters deemed superfluous to the story (thereby cutting down on the amount of perspective changing) and this, they would hope, would lead to a tighter, better structured story that would hold the reader's attention throughout.
So I mentioned my concerns to the author:
Blue Fire Burning is, at 486 pages, a big book. It also features a large cast of characters, with the narrative and viewpoint constantly moving between them. Do you have any concerns that older children and young adults may find the book initially daunting and possibly find themselves unable to keep up with the characters and changes of perspective?
"No, 'daunting' (intimidating or worrying) is not how I'd describe my book. I'll admit it isn't something anybody should read on a railway platform or whilst multi-tasking on Facebook etc. because you do need to pay attention, but that's as far as I'll go.
Never underestimate young people. They aren't frightened of long books and are hungry for fresh challenges that offer them the chance to flex their reading muscles. The last thing they want is condescension, i.e. more 'McDo-lit' offerings served up by people who don't appreciate their potential.
I don't think my target audience will have a problem remembering who's who in Blue Fire Burning's large cast of characters. Each one of them adds something essential to the plot. None are 'cardboard' or token presences and, alternating constantly between the three realms in which they live assures that the story never becomes stale and that the pace is more than lively. In other words, these points are strengths rather than concerns. They are a big part of what will draw readers into this unique tale and hold them there until page 486."
In conclusion I would once again strongly suggest that you give Blue Fire Burning a go, especially if you are on the lookout for a new author. Fans of Harry Potter and Disney's Tinkerbell will find great enjoyment within its pages. Also, any author's thinking about self-publishing should take a look at how it can be done so well. Although I had a couple of reservations these did not detract from an admirable and engaging book that should delight readers of all ages. Well done Hobb Whittons, an admirable effort and a deserving recipient of our Young Adult Book of Month, September 2011 award.
The best place to purchase Blue Fire Burning (in a variety of different formats) is directly from Smashwords at this URL - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/105288
Ambitious and engaging. An admirable book in many ways.
Review by Floresiensis
1 positive reader review(s) for Blue Fire Burning
Rick from Canada
Had me hooked from first page. Strong plot driven by an impressive bunch of diverse characters. Skilfully handled cliffhangers one after the other give the novel great pace. Loved Grot/Mouldy and Niktac/Ricochy. Double acts to die for! If this is the guy's first work in the genre, I am totally impressed. Awesome effort! Highly recommend you read this if you're looking for something fresh with quirks and twists. Best indie book I've read by far. Needs to be picked up by a major :))9/10 (2012-08-15)
8.7/10 from 2 reviews
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