Curiously nerdy posts.
So here we go. My first book review on here. Today we’ll be looking at Taming Fire, by Aaron Pogue.
It’s kind of an old one, but age doesn’t matter so much when it comes to books. At least to me, it doesn’t.
I got this book for my kindle for two reasons, really. First, because it cost me a grand total of 99 cents to purchase. That’s a hard price point to beat for the hours of entertainment that a book can bring. But the second reason is because I’ve also read a bit of this author’s Ghost Targets series as well, and was really impressed by it. That series, in particular, is a nice tasty blend of crime drama and plausible near future sci fi that forms into a real page turner. So I went into this thinking a simple thought: I really like this guy’s writing, and this book is really cheap. Also, I like fantasy a lot. What could possibly go wrong?
To start, I’ll just post the blurb for it.
“Daven Carrickson grew up as a beggar in the filthy alleys beneath the shadows of the palace. He’s the son of a known thief, disgraced and despised. His only real talent is his ability with a sword, and his only real chance at finding honor or a home is a desperate dream of joining the King’s Guard.
Then Daven receives a new future when Master Claighan invites him to study magic at the Academy. The wizard offers to make him into a new kind of soldier: a swordsman equally skilled with forged blades and mystic forces. It only helps that Daven has no home, no family, and nothing left to lose.
But when conspiring forces destroy the wizard’s plans, Daven finds himself wanted for treason and murder. Hunted by a great black beast of a dragon, caught between the King’s Guard and a rebel force led by a rogue wizard, Daven’s only hope of surviving is to become more than he’s ever dreamed possible.”
There’s a lot of fantasy cliches in there, to be sure. Orphan who wants to be a famous swordsman/wizard? Check. Evil wizards? Check. Dragons? Check. Check. CHECK.
But that doesn’t really matter. I’m of the opinion that an accessible story, especially of the fantasy/sci-fi variety, NEEDS some level of cliche in it to make the reader comfortable. It’s like comfort food your mom makes every thanksgiving: you go home to a certain place, not just in body, but in mind. But in your heart of hearts, you hope and expect for the the staples, the stuff like the dressing and the potato salad, to be the same. You’ve had it a hundred times, but it’s still just as delicious as the first time.
That’s what fantasy does for me, when I read it. I’m sure thousands of other readers agree with me.
But this book still has problems.
It starts off easily enough. We’re introduced to our hero, Daven. We’re quickly told that he’s downtrodden, because his father is a notorious thief who shamed his name. We learn that he’s found his niche being a shepherd for a local lord, and comforts himself with his lot in life by training with the sword by night, and dreaming of better things, like someday becoming a man of the King’s guard. All that changes, though, when a member of that same King’s Guard comes to visit his home, and overhears him boasting to his friends about how he, and not his local rival, should be going to war instead.
He duels this guardsman, and actually wins through a bit of trickery. The guardsman, embarassed, is about to kill him, when suddenly a wizard appears to save him. This wizard, Claighan, is acutely interested in Daven, and actually takes him away to be part of some wizardly scheme he is hatching to create a swordsman who relies upon magic as much as his own blade. Together, they begin travelling, and we’re introduced to Pogue’s magic system as Daven starts being taught magic along the way. It’s actually quite good, and creative, which is always nice when reading new fantasy.
But then among some twists and turns, we discover that Daven isn’t really wanted anywhere. By the time they reach the wizard academy, they’ve already managed to piss off half the kingdom, AND the king himself into declaring them outlaws. Once they arrive, Claighan, Daven’s own personal Obi Wan, is whisked away to be treated for his near mortal wounds. This is about a third of the way through the book.
And then we never see him again.
Daven, as a guest of the wizards, isn’t really wanted, since he’s viewed as a project of a crazy wizard that had a harebrained plan that no one believed would work. But they promise to teach him magic until he gets frustrated and wants to leave, even though there’s literally nowhere else for him to go. He makes one friend in his months there, a son of a lord who’s convinced that Daven will become something great. He stays there, learns the basics of magic, but the kicker is that he can’t use it at all. It just won’t work for him.
Through twists and turns, he’s forced out of the academy by the villains, and away from his friend… whom, it should be pointed out, we never see again.
Seeing a trend here?
My really big problem with this book is simple. Every single character, outside of Daven himself, seems tacked on and expendable. We travel great distances, from a humble fisherman’s hut, to a palace, to a wizard’s academy, and meet all sorts of colorful characters in each. But it seems hollow, because we’re not allowed to become attached to any of them. They die, are left behind, or are simply written out by plot. The only exception, of course, is Daven himself. And Daven isn’t exactly the most interesting character ever made. If he was, the book would be fine.
But fantasy tends to be more interesting when there’s a cast to get to know, instead of just one character. And setting-wise, we’re just jerked around for the entire book, like the author just can’t decide where to linger. There’s a romance in there, too, between Daven and a girl he meets at the palace. They flirt, and it’s genuinely well written. But then you don’t see her again until the very end, and the continuation of their sudden romance seems just a tad bit… escalated. Escalated to the point where Daven is made to choose between her life, or the entire freaking kingdom, and he only hesitates for a second before (predictably) choosing her.
Maybe book 2 solves a lot of my concerns, both with the pacing/ADD setting changes, and of course with the revolving door of characters. But I’m not really motivated to find out, as this book was a grind for me to finish. If I want more Aaron Pogue, I’ll stick with Ghost Targets.
It’s just frustrating, because I know he’s a good writer, and his characters are all well sculpted. He just doesn’t let me get to know any of them.
-Description. Whether it’s describing a simple room, or an action scene where Daven is fighting in a river for his life against impossible odds, I was always right there.
-Characterization. A bit cliched sometimes, but well done nonetheless.
-Again, the revolving door of characters.
It’s a solid book for a dollar, don’t get me wrong. But I wanted more.
I give this **. Some good in there, but I was left pretty unsatisfied, and relieved that it was over.
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