The Hive Reads… The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan
Welcome to the first instalment of our monthly ‘Hive Reads’ feature! After settling on The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan as our January read, a bunch of us here at the Hive diligently noted down our thoughts whilst reading throughout the month. The end result is a rather marvellous roundtable conversation, which you can read below.
(Don’t forget to stick around until the end for the ‘appendices’, or rather ‘random thoughts and progress updates’!)
LAURA M. HUGHES: Can I just start by saying: THAT COVER. Jaime Jones really knocked the artwork out of the park for this one!
Ahem. To business. Let’s begin at the beginning! I loved the opening chapter, which is written in the form of a report. It’s followed by an epigraph, an extract from an in-world text about dragon blood. I must admit, I was hoping the entire novel would follow this epistolary format (a bit like Dracula). However, once we’d been introduced to each of the protagonists, it wasn’t long before I started getting into the swing of the main narrative.
What did everyone think of the protagonists – and the ‘named chapter’ shifting POVs?
T.O. MUNRO: The handling of the multiple POVs worked OK for me. I liked the way some of the chapters ended on a cliffhanger, which could just marinade in my mind until I returned to see how things played out. Then again, I was brought up on the episodic cliffhangers of Doctor Who . . .
T L (TAYA) GREYLOCK: A few chapters in, I found myself a bit impatient as to how these disparate storylines were going to come together. I tend not to enjoy it when books introduce characters via a single chapter; I’d rather have a little more time with each to begin with. As it is, I wasn’t sure what any of them were up to or whether I wanted to like them. That being said, I enjoyed the prologue and Lizanne’s chapter held the most mystery and intrigue; I was most curious to come back to her.
CHRIS MAHON: Lizanne suffers from a certain strain of protagonist syndrome that makes her simultaneously a rich heiress, a Blood-blessed, the daughter of the most capable inventor of the age, a young prodigy able to control all four types of drake blood, a globetrotting assassin, a polyglot, a technologist, and a whip-smart detective.
LAURA: I’m forced to agree that Lizanne is perhaps a little too perfect. However, her smart narrative voice and sharp, witty dialogue make her a lot of fun to read. I especially enjoyed the way the author gave us a glimpse of her sensitive side within the first chapter; just a hint of vulnerability that promises a certain depth of character, perhaps to be shown later on.
T.O.: The pretext for visiting the cabin during Lizanne’s “encounter” on the boat struck a chord with a tale a university of mine related when, on his first and only club 18-30 holiday, the only proposition he got was from a man asking if he wanted to come up and see “my etchings” – some failure of a phrase book there. I thought Lizanne handled her situation quite well.
I would agree with you both that there are points where she does seems a little bit overpowered, though not without vulnerabilities – especially to others of her type!
CHRIS: I appreciated her range, from cold, calculating spy to exuberant, loving former student, and would have liked to learn more about how she balances these two sides of herself, but by the time the plot comes to her new mission, I felt the book’s focus shift back to swashbuckling adventure. The amount of time poured into Lizanne’s preparations and gadgets made it clear that this was going to be primarily about doing steampunk spy stuff.
ALICIA WANSTALL-BURKE: I enjoyed the Victorian steampunk feel. In my head, Lizanne sounds like Miss Peregrine, which sucked me right in after initially being put off by her ‘I know what this guy is up to’ internal dialogue on the paddle steamer.
LAURA: Yes, she is a bit cocky at the start, Alicia!
Would you say the focus on ‘steampunk spy stuff’ is an issue, Chris? Why?
CHRIS: When we first meet Lizanne, the reader is immediately immersed in intrigue without understanding the stakes or the terms. There’s action and adventure, but all of it’s just spectacle—we don’t know why people are after her, or what’s at stake. There’s an implication that she’s a spy of some sort, but it’s not clear who or what she’s spying for until she meets with her old teacher.
When it comes to Clay, it’s a similar situation. We begin in medias res with an underground boxing match, but it’s only after the fight that we’re introduced to Derk, Joya, and the plan to grab a boat to Feros. Before the reader can start getting invested in these plans, they’re wiped away. The book spends a lot of time trying to build up Clay’s relationship with Derk and Joya retroactively, but it’s already too late.
LAURA: Hmm. I can see your point, though I was personally quite glad Clay’s story progressed quickly without too much meandering early on. In fact, I think Clay ended up being my favourite POV character.
An intoxicating mix of magic and machine.
– T.O. Munro
CHRIS: Clay feels like the “rogue with a heart of gold” archetype you can read about in a lot of fantasy books: quick-witted, strong-willed, self-interested, dashing, shrewd, uncouth to the upper class, and not afraid to play dirty. However, he is simultaneously empathetic, kind, intelligent, and a follower of his own moral code, which is paradoxically more humane than the society he lives in. The fact that he’s also a Blood-blessed who’s encouraged to become more “connected” with Lizanne seals the deal: he’s the male lead character in a fantasy book.
LAURA: What about Hilemore?
CHRIS: Hilemore? He’s given one chapter in the first one hundred pages to establish his assignment aboard his new ship and that he’s heading out on a top-secret mission. We’re given hints that he’s a well-disciplined, observant guy who’s been through some traumatic shit, but that’s about it.
LAURA: I liked Hilemore, but have to agree with you here. I was a bit disappointed with the unevenness of the chapters throughout. I really enjoyed Hilemore’s segments, and feel like he got forgotten about towards the end. Super glad he finally met up with the Longrifles, though! (Also, how convenient was that final meeting??)
T.O: I felt like I was reading three stories. Even the degree to which Lizanne and Clay’s storylines connect felt tenuous. There is the naval narrative of Hilemore – which felt more and more Hornblowerish with every passage (well, to be honest, more Ramage/Bolitho-ish). Then there was the hardened band of Clay’s jungle explorers, and the city-based intrigue of Lizanne. It was all entertaining and readable but I’m not sure how well these threads tied off together.
TAYA: I agree about the three separate stories. For me the separation is due at least in part to the fact that we remain with each character for no more than a chapter–and while I haven’t counted pages, these chapters don’t feel long. Plus, as most chapters end with a bit of a cliffhanger, I was constantly wishing that storyline would continue. While I can see the thought process behind the decision to craft the story in this way, I’m not sure it had the desired effect on me.
T.O.: I agree. I found myself having to flick back from time to time to remind myself of the cliffhanger the previous chapter with that character ended on. Thank goodness there are only the three PoVs.
TAYA: Another element to this separation is that other than a very brief face-to-face interaction between Clay and Lizanne, our three POV characters have yet to share the page (until the very end). As for the Blue Trance…I don’t think it really counts. We don’t know what they think of each other–especially in Hilemore’s case–and I’m missing that kind of development. They’re not judging each other, reacting to each other, trying to kill each other, etc., and I think that’s preventing me from transitioning from being mildly intrigued by them to being invested in any of them. I think one of the massive benefits of having multiple POVs is the opportunity it offers to play those characters off of each other; without that, they’re just existing quite innocuously and I think it hinders the reader’s ability to connect to and form opinions of them.
T.O.: A good point – like GRRM uses PoV to show Tyrion from the inside and the outside.
TAYA: Exactly! I was also thinking specifically of how we see Tyrion manipulate people to determine who was spying on him for Cersei (can’t remember the details, it’s been ages). That was so subtle, so complex, and yet so clean! And it required consistent, in-depth interaction between those characters.
T. ERIC BAKUTIS: Introducing a third protagonist (three protagonists in three chapters?) was certainly a ballsy move, but didn’t bother me too much. For me, it helped that the Windqueen was mentioned as the ship of the pirates who ambushed street fighter guy’s “friend” and killed him, and at the end of the third chapter, we learn the new super fast dragon-blood powered boat is going to attack it. So at least I know these three characters will soon be connected and the book isn’t going to keep throwing random new folks at me like a George R. R. Martin novel on speed.
ALICIA: Speaking of ship names, Eric, I couldn’t help but giggle at some of them. My husband manages a contract for a mine site and these terms are so familiar and hilarious to me.
LAURA: I know as much (or should I say little) about ships as I do about cars. Perhaps that’s why, for me, the names of the ships just kept muddling in my mind. (I was the same when I watched Pirates of the Caribbean. Couldn’t keep up . . . even though I’m pretty sure there were only two!)
ALICIA: I bought The Waking Fire’s sequel, The Legion of Flame, and started reading while on holiday. I put a Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack on to knock me out on the flight home and subsequently had a few hours of very heady drake/Blood-blessed/sea battle dreams. A delicious pairing.
ERIC: I do agree with those who say these three narratives are only loosely connected. Clay and Lizanne are *loosely* connected by the blue trances, and I do like seeing each of the individual quests informed by the other (Clay discovers something that aids Lizanne, Lizanne discovers something that aids Clay). Hilemore, however, was entirely disconnected from the rest of the narrative up to the very end, and while I really enjoyed his chapters, I did wonder why we are following his story since it wasn’t evident to me where it would connect to the larger tale (which evolved into stopping the rise of the White Drake). That said, reading the chapter where Hilemore and the others escaped the pirate city while being fired on by Corvantines finally crystalized what this book is for me, a thought that Alicia just brushed across:
This book is Pirates of the Caribbean with ****ing dragons.
ALICIA: YES IT IS!!!
This book is Pirates of the Caribbean with ****ing dragons.
– T. Eric Bakutis
T.O: I enjoyed the mix of naval novel and steampunk. The tensions between a close confined band of officers were particularly reminiscent of every Hornblower and pseudo-Hornblower novel I ever read or tried to write.
Then there is the technical ingenuity; the intoxicating mix of magic and machine. McKinley’s Iron Ship reminded me of visiting the SS Great Britain; Hilemore’s ship reminds me of visiting HMS Gannet in Chatham Dockyard, or what I read of the technical revolution of the steam turbine and the coming of the Dreadnoughts at the start of the twentieth century. This book is singing in harmony with my inner geek. (OK maybe more outer geek than inner geek!) And on that note, to those not au fait with naval engineering of the dreadnought era, speeds of 30 knots are impressive, even more so since these ships seem to rely on paddle wheels rather than propellers! (You can thank me for my prescient observation later – page 101 to be precise).
TAYA: Unlike T.O., my eyes seem to develop a profound jumpiness accompanied by a bit of glaze when I see all the technical stuff. However, I think it’s clear I’m not missing anything essential. (Gods, the final twist is going to have something to do with propellers, isn’t it?)
T.O.: Not missing out anything essential, no – but I kept having little tremors of recognition, so much so that I want to check if Ryan has read any of the history I have. For example, the Ironship syndicate’s determination to stifle technological innovation rather than embrace it reminds me of 19th century Royal Navy doctrine as the then pre-eminent naval power in the world. “Avoiding advancing any new development that renders your current fleet obsolete so levelling the playing field.” Another character’s comment reminded me of Admiral Beatty’s frustrated understatement at Jutland when another British Battlecruiser blew up: “There’s something wrong with our bloody ships today.”
(Laura, feel free to delete all these geeky observations if they get too much – or relegate them to a dusty appendix!)
TAYA: Can we please have an appendix?
LAURA: Order! *whacks hammer on gavel*
Back to the players: any thoughts on the minor characters?
T.O.: I liked Silverpin, probably because we knew so little about her and could judge her only by her actions and reactions (a bit like Peter Newman’s eponymous hero in The Vagrant).
TAYA: I became quite fond of Braddon.
T.O.: Braddon and his crew are an interesting bunch because they are made so deliberately and identifiably different – like The Magnificent Seven and other great bands of desperados.
ALICIA: I loved reading about Clay and the Longrifles — Silverpin was a particular favourite. I also really enjoyed the sea battles with Hilemore; not having read many before, I thought they were really well paced. The action in those scenes was one of my favourite parts.
ERIC: I really enjoyed not knowing which characters would become important. As an example, the captain of the Windqueen seemed like nothing more than a minor obstacle early on, but becomes important and fleshed out later when Hilemore loses Tottleborn. But if I had one complaint about the unpredictability of minor characters becoming important (and that complaint would be minor) it does seem too often that characters become important for plot reasons, to get the protagonists out of jams.
Two examples. Clay’s Longrifles need a scholar, and lo and behold, they meet Scribes in a bar, and Scribes *just* happens to know a lot of important plot details about the next location they reach (same with Doc, who they also encounter and who just happens to have important lore info). Hilemore’s ship loses its Blood-blessed in the fight with the Corvantines, and lo and behold, the pirate captain they just captured is a Blood-blessed too. However, I think this is my author mind screaming “THAT’S TOO CONVENIENT!” while my reader mind zips along and thinks “Wow, cool”. So I’m okay with it.
LAURA: More excellent points, Eric. Any other general impressions of the book?
ERIC: I didn’t have much time to read, but when I did sit down I blew through this book. It’s tightly written and I love the pacing . The action kept evolving, getting bigger, badder, and more epic, with downtime in between so I could get to know the characters (but never get bored). I also like that this is a world with so many badasses. Even the minor characters feel like they existed before they hit the page (and the ones who survive will exist after).
After reading the first three chapters (the second introducing the guy who’s stacking the odds in the fight) I realized the world definitely has a Pit Dragon Chronicles (Jane Yolen) meets Swords and Scoundrels (Julia Knight) feel, with the co-existence of both magical powers (like dragon blood users) and, say, shotguns.
I enjoyed the Victorian steampunk feel. In my head, Lizanne sounds like Miss Peregrine, which sucked me right in.
– Alicia Wanstall-Burke
LAURA: Any quibbles, team?
TAYA: I have a quibble about the Spoiled. Preacher certainly has his finger on the money in his ideas about the Spoiled and their…relationship…with the drakes. And this opinion has been echoed elsewhere…was it the Mad Artisan? I forget. Anyway, given the number of people who have had contact with the Spoiled and who roam the interior on their various quests…I just feel there should, by now, be a better sense and understanding of the Spoiled. The fact that everyone seems so oblivious feels convenient for the plot. Unless I’m just reading all of that wrong.
LAURA: No, I think you make a fair point. Anyone else got gripes? Let’s get them out of the way now!
CHRIS: It takes until around page 94 to get a real sense of what the main conflict of the book is going to be: the attempt to shore up the supply of drake blood in the face of waning supplies by going on a dangerous mission to find a White drake nesting ground. What struck me is that neither Clay nor Lizanne actually wants to go on the mission to find the White drake—Clay is doing it for the sizable paycheck and Lizanne straight-out says that this is one mission she’s not allowed to refuse. The characters have nothing personal at stake in finding this egg.
LAURA: That’s another fair point. I did find it a bit strange that Lizanne at the very least wasn’t eager to follow in the footsteps of Ethelynne Drystone – though given what happens later between her and Madame Bondersil, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after all that she’s forging her own path.
CHRIS: Lizanne realizes the global socio-economic implications of the waning potency and stock of drake blood, but is the reader really rooting for the continued survival of this money-obsessed mercantilist system? Is that the emotional core of this story—saving a fantasy version of the East India Trading Company? I actually like substituting corporate powers for kingdoms in a fantasy world—they’re an interesting change of pace—but I don’t give a shit if they fail or succeed. That’s not why I’m reading this book. I’m reading this because I want to see characters pushed to their limits and forced to grow in the face of impending danger. The Scarlet Pimpernel wasn’t known for that.
T.O.: The East India Company analogy had occurred to me too. I also found myself wondering a little at the economics – after all, in our world oil supply constraints (which seem a good comparator for “product!”) have not impacted on oil company profits so much as on the price paid by the consumer.
CHRIS: Part of my disinterest in this book may come from the world itself—I’ve never been a fan of Victorian elements in fantasy, especially the minutiae of propriety and social hierarchies. I’ve never bought into the charm of the setting or the attempts to emulate Victorian prose, which has a tendency to turn whole paragraphs into a kind of decorative molding. So much of The Waking Fire is spent on indulging in the small, ornate details of its world and characters that I had to stop myself from skimming. The world is incredibly complex and well-developed, but after a while I started to tune some of it out just so I could figure out where the plot was and why I should care.
The world is incredibly complex and well-developed, but after a while I started to tune some of it out just so I could figure out where the plot was and why I should care.
– Chris Mahon
The intrigue, dialogue, world, set-up, and magic strongly remind me of Dune.
LAURA: I think that’s a bit harsh, Chris. Then again, I didn’t like Dune . . .
However, I found the worldbuilding in The Waking Fire intriguing. While I wasn’t always sure what the different parts of the world were or how they were connected (probably symptomatic of a ‘kingdom fantasy’ diet, as you mentioned earlier!), I never felt anything less than immersed in it all. I can’t be the only one?
T.O.: The worldbuilding intrigued me early on, too – steampunk that is a bit reminiscent of The Iron Ship by K.M. McKinley. Right from the beginning, I really liked the magic system and how it developed; the powers and the dangers of the blood of dragons, and the concept of the Blood-blessed who are enhanced rather than scorched by the beasts’ ichor.
I particularly liked the descriptions of the characters sharing a blue trance. Ryan’s attempt to visualise what it is like to be inside someone else’s mind – sharing thoughts/images/awareness. And Lizanne ordering hers like a well structured filing system, whereas Clay’s is “little more than a swirling mess, a forbidding, mostly formless tempest shot through with lightning flashes of rage and recently birthed grief” (a bit like my desk in my study) with “… glimpses of small tightly controlled balls of memory shining bright amidst all the darkness.” Having read (and written) of similar experiences (e.g. in Salyard’s Bloodsounder’s Arc) I am curious about how other authors depict a trespass on someone else’s thoughts.
I particularly liked the descriptions of the characters sharing a blue trance. Ryan’s attempt to visualise what it is like to be inside someone else’s mind… Lizanne ordering hers like a well structured filing system, whereas Clay’s is “little more than a swirling mess, a forbidding, mostly formless tempest shot through with lightning flashes of rage and recently birthed grief” (a bit like my desk in my study).
– T.O. Munro
ERIC: I like that we first got to see the dragon blood in action through the note from the lady who used it in the prologue. It’s always more interesting (for me) to see worldbuilding through action rather than exposition, and the scene with the lady and the sniper taking down the dragon did that quite nicely. I know how dragon blood works and am intrigued.
LAURA: As I mentioned above, I loved the prologue. Madame Bondersil’s voice was really distinctive, and I’m a huge fan of stories that are written in epistolary form. The entire sequence at the start is excellently rendered, with a fine balance of formality and drama.
T.O.: Yes – a different kind of prologue. The report of disaster from a competent eye witness and the fact that she is writing to someone who knows of what she speaks means that the worldbuilding allusions work as brilliant teasers. There is no info dump and the reader feels like a child witnessing a half-comprehended adult conversation.
LAURA: The author certainly does a very creditable job of introducing some of the key aspects of the Draconis Memoria’s worldbuilding – namely, the dragons (and their ‘product’, of course). The reader gets the opportunity to see one of the drakes – a Black – in action almost immediately, and damn, is that thing fierce (as dragons should be).
ERIC: Honestly, I felt a bit bad for the poor Black. It was only fighting and fleeing because everyone literally wanted to DRAIN ITS BLOOD AND KILL IT. I mean, c’mon. That’d put anyone in a bad mood. There was also a nice bit of sympathy where she sensed the terror in it before Captain Torcreek blew its head off.
Honestly, I felt a bit bad for the poor Black. It was only fighting and fleeing because everyone literally wanted to DRAIN ITS BLOOD AND KILL IT. I mean, c’mon. That’d put anyone in a bad mood.
– T. Eric Bakutis
T.O.: Upon finding out more about the Ironship syndicate, I was struck by the concept of any equipment being “standard issue to covert officers.” It sounds like a non-sequittur – a bit like the time my brother-in-law insisted there was a standard issue branded CIA watch used by all American spies and also on sale to the general public. (To be fair to my brother-in-law, this was at the end of a wine-full evening.)
Meeting the mysterious Q-like figure at the technological heart of the syndicate machine put me even more in mind of James Bond, with the gadgets that you just know will come fiercely into play in the last reel. (On which note my favourite was the gun disguised as a pen in Never Say Never Again. Sean Connery’s James Bond is being forced to write a declaration that the female assassin about to kill him was the best lover he had ever had. His response: “I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to do endorsements,” before using the pen to shoot her).
The era, though, is a century earlier than James Bond’s, so perhaps more wild wild west than MI6 in its technology. And it seems it is not just me who plunders our world for name inspiration. I mean, come on – a make of gambler’s pistol called a Dessinger! Only a letter away from drawing the interest of the Derringer company.
LAURA: It might just be a coincidence! We don’t know for sure . . .
We’ve spoken a lot about the characters, and about the book’s opening. Any thoughts on the big denouement?
TAYA: I confess that I got rather bored of the battle and flight from Carvenport. I hate to say it but repeated descriptions of Blood-blessed fighting drakes are, well, repetitive. Unleashing Black, enhancing with Green, all wrapped up in a burst of Red.
ALICIA: I felt the same about the battle for Carvenport. And the sheer numbers of people (Spoiled and Imperial soldiers) just didn’t sit right. The interior is, as I understood it, pretty sparsely populated? Not many people, Spoiled or otherwise. Now there are just fuck loads, streaming out of god knows where like ants towards a jam sandwich. The size of the Imperial army seems a bit off too. The numbers felt too high. Don’t know if that’s anyone else’s sense…
TAYA: Ants toward a jam sandwich! [insert laughing emoji here] I definitely agree. The descriptions of ‘Greens by the thousands’ and countless Spoiled contradict my expectations. And the fact that there could be 6,000 dead civilians/defenders, or whatever the number was, again just seems way out of proportion.
T.O.: Agreed that Carvenport lacked emotion and conviction. Sieges and sea journeys are two motifs in fantasy where less is often more. My own suspension of disbelief was getting quite a bit unsuspended. The notion that – in a city under siege – there are sufficient raw materials lying around to manufacture multiple weapons of war . . .
ALICIA: I’m like, there are only so many people on this island, and there aren’t great swathes of them going missing and being turned into Spoiled, so where are they coming from? They are cannon fodder obviously, but hmmm… there’s just something that didn’t sit right…
TAYA: Yes, and the drake population is supposed to be near extinction. For me, I was expecting that to mean a few thousand of each color, or maybe even only a couple hundred rare Blacks or something, certainly not enough to engage in MULTIPLE battles involving thousands upon thousands of them.
T.O.: Absolutely – a totally inexhaustible supply of dragons
ALICIA: I was wondering if we were going to find a big ol’ underground drake hatchery where they’ve been living and breeding for centuries, but even halfway through the sequel, the sudden population explosion hasn’t been explained. Unless I missed something?
ERIC: While I enjoyed the journey, I agree with some of the confusion about the final battle. The numbers did seem out of whack, but upon browsing Wikipedia for the number of people in towns of similar sizes in history, it didn’t seem quite as improbable as I’d first thought. They crammed a lot of people into small spaces! So while I think you could justify the number of people in the battle, I do agree with those who would have liked to know where the hordes of dragons were coming from. That could have been foreshadowed better.
The sheer numbers of people (Spoiled and Imperial soldiers) just didn’t sit right. The interior is, as I understood it, pretty sparsely populated. Not many people, Spoiled or otherwise. Now there are just fuck loads, streaming out of god knows where like ants towards a jam sandwich.
– Alicia Wanstall-Burke
T.O.: The sea battle outside Carvenport twinned with the co-dependent action under the mountain with Clay and Silverpin is like the denouement of LotR. You know, when the black gate opens while Frodo and Sam simultaneously battle internal and external demons within the bowels of Orodruin. Only in The Waking Fire, it’s the good guys flying out of the opening gate; a ‘death or glory’ flight into the jaws of the enemy, rather than the orc and troll hordes rushing out to devour the good guys.
Also, at the key moment the implement of power (that dragon controlling crystal/ring of power) is destroyed, leaving the battle foe/blue dragons rudderless. In this case, however, the big bad (White dragon/Sauron) survives.
Finally, in this analogy Hilemore gets to play Gwaihir lord of eagles, who rescues Clay/Frodo from the utter ruin of the continent.
TAYA: Why does Clay recognize Hilemore? What am I missing? *feels stupid*
ALICIA: Clay had a vision in the cave when he drank the blood of the White (future sight being the main benefit of its product). He saw a man in an ice scape who says “this is where we go save the world”, so when he sees Hilemore later, he recognises his face and knows they will go to the (yet unmentioned) icy southern continent together to ‘save the world.’
The LotR parallels are certainly strong! I didn’t find it distracting though.
TAYA: Thank you, Alicia! Totally didn’t pick up on Hilemore as the man in the icescape….
T.O.: Thanks Alicia and Taya – I hadn’t even noticed the flare of recognition between Hilemore and Clay in the first place. And you’re right – the LotR parallels weren’t that distracting – just sort of occurred to me as they happened, especially when Lizanne is at the mercy of three Blues who suddenly come to their senses and decide not to eat/burn her.
ERIC: I agree the final battle felt like it had just a bit too much to it – first the Corvantine invasion, then the drakes, then the escape – it was a lot of chapters of battle that ultimately resulted in much unnecessary to the overall plot. You could have had the drakes boil out of the forest and attack the Corvantines after the shelling ended, for example, and cut a good number of chapters while having the same story play out.
With this in mind, and looking back over the book, so much of it seems ultimately tangential to the central plot of the White’s reemergence and the search for it, which was the book’s core. Hilemore’s entire arc, lovely and enjoyable as it was, basically served no more purpose than to have him steam into port and pick up Clay and the surviving Longrifles. It was almost entirely superfluous. Same with much of Lizanne’s arc – while some of her discoveries helped Clay and the Longrifles with their trek, a good amount of her journey was ultimately inconsequential to the overall plot, at least as I saw it – that of the White awakening, and the Longrifles’ quest to find it.
LAURA: I’m hoping Hilemore’s adventures will become more relevant to the rest of the series (which I’ll definitely be reading at some point). The whole subplot with the Blood-blessed Varestian captain’s brother, for instance, and the still-unconscious captain of Hilemore’s own ship. Enjoyable as his storyline was, though, it wasn’t really an ‘arc’, and at times it did feel like filler rather than actual plot.
ERIC: Overall, that’s actually how I feel about a lot of the book, looking back at it. It seems like the story took longer than it needed to get to its twists and turns and reveal its ultimate narrative. I’m almost wondering if it was stretched intentionally (trilogies always sell better than singles, as we know!) with padding added to increase the time to get to each revelation while still allowing the overall plot to spool out over a longer period of time.
Ultimately, I’d heartily recommend this book, but with the caveat that any who pick up this first volume be prepared to settle in for a full trilogy of reading.
– T. Eric Bakutis
I love where the book is going, and enjoyed getting there, but I’m disappointed that completing the first book has only set the stage for a second one, without actually resolving the plot it introduced. The White is still out there, two of the POV characters (Hilemore and Clay) literally meet for the first time on the very final page, and Lizanne still remains far away from them. I have a preference for tighter plots, I think, and the plot of this book did a lot of meandering.
On the other hand, the saving grace of the book is that even what might be considered padding is still tremendously entertaining. Even though, looking back, I can see that a lot of it didn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, I was hooked throughout the read and enjoyed the ride. So really, I can’t complain about being overfed.
LAURA: That’s a good point. Readers are certainly getting their money’s worth!
So how about it, guys? Would we recommend The Waking Fire to others?
ERIC: Ultimately, I’d heartily recommend this book, but with the caveat that any who pick up this first volume be prepared to settle in for a full trilogy of reading – this book does not, in my opinion, tell a complete story. It’ll take at least one more book (if not two, given publishing’s preference for trilogies) before it concludes in a satisfactory fashion.
ALICIA: Agreed, Eric.
I should add I enjoyed this book enough to buy a copy for my mum, which is a pretty big vote of confidence. We’ve been enabling each other’s reading addictions since I was a teenager, so if it gets the McPherson-Wanstall tick of approval it must be ok!
TAYA: There’s no doubt that elements of this book are highly enjoyable and I think the right audience will adore it. One other potentially compelling aspect of reading this book, for some readers, is in the comparison to Ryan’s previous work–Blood Song and its sequels. It’s always interesting to witness an author depart so thoroughly from what he or she has done before, and Ryan has certainly done that here. I’ll be intrigued to see what else he has up his sleeve.
It’s always interesting to witness an author depart so thoroughly from what he or she has done before, and Ryan has certainly done that here. I’ll be intrigued to see what else he has up his sleeve.
– T L Greylock
This month’s ‘Hive Reads’ review was brought to you by T L Greylock, T. O. Munro, Chris Mahon, T. Eric Bakutis, Alicia Wanstall-Burke and Laura M. Hughes.
(aka. comments stream)
Below are a few cheeky extra random thoughts taken from our spontaneous updates throughout the month. Enjoy!
T.O.: Hey Ma, they’re talking about us! Page 104: “They call it the Hive, apparently,” Captain Trumane said.
LAURA: No way! Guys, WE WERE TUCKERISED BEFORE WE EVEN EXISTED. Win!
TAYA: 27%. What the fuck is a Spoiled.
LAURA: You will find out. Impatient creature.
T.O.: Spoilers! (heh heh!)
T.O.: There are lots of resonances for me with other tales real and fictional – and in a good way. It fuels my interest to see other themes bleed into a fantasy world.
- The concept of a world effectively ruled more by the business interests of big corporations than the official form of government – an allegory of our times?
- The disruptive tidal effects of multiple moons and the need to track them with an orrery – something I also saw done well in McKinley’s The Iron Ship.
- The lost/doomed expedition that set off into the wild hinterland of a barren southern continent. Hearing about Wittler, I couldn’t help but think of Scott of the Antarctic (though Scott had less flora and fauna to contend with).
T.O.: p108 – when character A tells character B, “There’s a letter… in my cabin…for a young lady of my acquaintance back in Feros. Should the worst happen…” you have to think either unsubtle foreshadowing of the most obvious war movie type, OR Ryan is selling us a dummy pass. Time will tell which it is.
T.O.: I like this description of a character’s eyes “Dark beads set in the fleshy pillow of her face.”
T.O.: Tekela could turn out to be an intoxicating character.
TAYA: I think so too! I’ll be bummed if she’s another Keyvine and her SPOILER apparent death is merely an excuse to get Lizanne out of her current situation quickly…. Much more interesting if she sticks around to be a thorn in Lizanne’s side.
T.O.: Ok, flavours/themes that are emerging for me through the mists of the book’s interior:
- The naval novel (though I may take issue with some engineering/tactical/administrative arrangements, e.g. 5% share of the prize money for a second lieutenant)
- Upstairs downstairs/Downton Abbey – a brief interlude
- The King Kong movie/story – where a plucky band of very different explorers set off into a lethal hinterland in search of a mythical creature.
ALICIA: Have finished. Bought the sequel (ebook) before we left Bali, then got the paperback when we landed in Brisbane. I’m just under halfway through that. Many, many feels. Will wait until jet lag and plane-flu abate before trying to order them into anything legible.
An afterthought – I put a Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack on to knock me out on the flight home and subsequently had a few hours of very heady drake/Blood-blessed/sea battle dreams. A delicious pairing.
TAYA: 49%. Hmmmm. Finding it difficult to put into words how I’m feeling at this point. I enjoy it while I’m reading it, but it’s not sticking with me when I walk away–and I’m not sure why.
T. O.: There is a convenient swaddled figure and his pet stalking Clay – could it be Yoda seen from a distance?!
ALICIA: Having finished reading a while ago, I’m kind of enjoying everyone’s speculation about who fits where and what’s going to happen. My tongue is bleeding from biting it so hard!
Thanks again to our wonderful reading team of Alicia, Taya, Chris, Eric, and T.O.! And me (Laura), I guess. Be sure to stop by next month to see what we have to say about The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris!