Saturday, 26 November 2011

Review: 'The Seekers of Fire' by Lynna Merrill

This is a debut work by a self-published author, the first part of a trilogy. The premise is not an original one - in a world infused with magic (or Magic, as the author has it, many such words being capitalised) which is for some unknown reason losing its power, a young woman must learn to control her own latent abilities. More interestingly, the magic (sorry, Magic) is being used to control fire in its various forms of both heat and light, and ultimately all forms of manufacture and agriculture, and thereby keep the entire population in subjection. There is also some kind of mind control in effect, and the whole setup tied into a religious cult based around a founding figure, called the Master.

The heroine, Linden, is probably intended as the conventional feisty, opinionated, independent type of female, and in the opening chapters that is exactly how she appears. In a difficult situation, with the population verging on rebellion because of the lack of fire, one of the fire-wielding Bers attempts to dominate the crowd by force, and Linden openly, although quite reasonably, defies him. Her reasons for doing this are not entirely convincing, but never mind, it's a rousing moment, which definitely has the reader rooting for her.

Unfortunately, Linden spends the rest of the book fainting and falling down and coming over all funny, and generally playing the weak and helpless female, needing rescue in the strong arms of the hero, who fortuitously appears in the nick of time. Now, later in the book it appears that there is actually a reason for all this, but somehow this is too late to save the character from the apparent role of useless wuss.

It has to be said that the hero, Rianor, is not averse to his own share of swooning and falling about, and the pair of them get themselves injured in more ways in a shorter space of time than I would have considered possible. So in between all the fainting and wooziness, there's a great deal of bandaging going on. They are both supposed to be interested in science (oops, Science), but frankly there wasn't much of this on display, and neither of them show the sort of observational skills one might expect from scientists.

One thing that drove me crazy with Linden is that no matter what anyone told her to do, she would invariably do the exact opposite. And there seemed to be no rational reason for it, either - she just 'had a feeling' or simply didn't want to be told. Sometimes I wanted to slap her. Having been rescued from her brave (if foolhardy) stance against the Bers by Rianor, a High Lord with undoubtedly more worldly experience than her, and agreed to become his apprentice, does she ever listen to him? Not a chance. I suppose this is designed to make her appear more feisty, but mostly it made her look silly, especially when her rebelliousness ended up getting them both into more trouble or injured (again).

One of the emerging themes of the book is that of insanity, and the possibility that those dealing with magic (sorry, Magic) are more prone to it. Much of the early part of the book (especially the escape through the secret passage (or rather Passage)) is written in a choppy, introspective style, so that there is a great deal about what Linden and Rianor are feeling and thinking and speculating, and numerous diversions into dream-like sequences or outbreaks of poetry. I found these very hard to follow. It was difficult to work out exactly what was happening, let alone why. At first I assumed this was just the author's style, but I suspect it was intended to show the effect of Magic on their minds. This might be very clever, but I would trade it any day for greater clarity of plot.

The best part of the book, for me, is the world-building. I couldn't read the map on my Kindle, so I don't know how much it helped, but most of the action is set in one city anyway. I loved the idea that the Magic-wielding Bers have manipulated society over the centuries to take control of almost every aspect of life, and that some parts of that process were only completed recently. The society is industrialised, to some extent, although it's not clear how advanced that is. Fire is supplied at fire-wells, or conveyed by pipes, like water (how, I wonder?). There are Factories and Mills and even elevators which are powered by Magic, but travel between cities is by horse-drawn carriage. I was taken aback, however, to read references to shopping bags and wire coat hangers, and even sports weights, which seem to suggest a very modern lifestyle, and the references to extreme diets seemed modern, too. I would have liked a little more description of the surroundings - streets, buildi ngs, clothes, furniture and so on, to help me visualise the setting.

The author is asking some truly interesting questions: where does science end and magic begin; and where does magic blend into religion? In my opinion, all fantasy authors should be addressing these questions, at least indirectly. The hints about the significance of insanity (and what is insanity anyway?), if the author chooses to follow this line of thought, would make the remaining two books in the series very interesting.

It is odd to reach the end and realise that only a couple of days have passed since the opening chapter. Despite all the falling down and bandaging and strange dreams, nothing much has actually happened. The escape through the Passage, in particular, seemed to go on forever, with very little achieved. Once Linden starts exploring Qynnsent, and especially once we meet some other members of Rianor's family, I found myself more absorbed and the pace seemed to pick up somewhat, although sadly I found the quite dull Jenne and Inni more interesting than our two heroes at this point. All that falling about wiped out any sympathy I might have had for them.

And just when it got interesting, there was a big info-dump of background, and the book stopped. Obviously, this is only part one of three, but still it would have been nice to have a bit more resolution than that. It may be that the complete trilogy will be a more satisfying read, and there is certainly a great deal of potential for some deeper themes to emerge. The world-building and the magic system are excellent and well thought out, and the decline of magic, while not an original idea, is still intriguingly implemented. Nevertheless, I am not particularly invested in any of the characters at the moment, and the uneven pacing and plot-obscuring writing style drag this down to three stars.

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