February 05, 2004

Firedrake, by Ann Ewan

A few times a year I'm asked to review somebody's new book. Most of the time I say no. If the book isn't the sort of thing I usually read there's no way I can review it fairly or objectively. I suspect many authors wouldn't care about my fairness or objectivity provided that I liked the book--but if it were the sort of book I like it would be the sort of book I read, if you follow me.

So I've established some rules. I only accept book review requests if it's the sort of book I might read anyway, and if they are willing to send me a review copy. Once in a while those conditions are actually met...and then, of course, I have to read the darn thing, and then review it. And that's a problem.

It's very odd. I've been reviewing pretty much everything I read for over six years. I know when I pick up a book that eventually I'll be recording my opinion of it for posterity--or, at any rate, for you folks. And yet, it's different when I've been asked to review a book. I find I can't approach it with an open mind and an open heart and simply try to enjoy it; instead, I've got my critic's hat on from page 1. And, absurdly, this just makes it harder for me to know what I think, because I end up watching the book instead of reading it.

I say all this as fair disclosure--Firedrake, a young adult fantasy novel, is one of the rare requests that made it through my filters.

So what's it about?

Shan is a young girl. Since she was a small child she's been in training to be a Wolf, one of the elite soldiers who guard the borders of the land or Perinar. Once, long ago, the common folk loved and honored the Wolves, for it was the Wolves who kept them safe. Several centuries past, however, after having saved Perinar from a horrible enemy, a group of wizards known as the Arkanan took over the rule of the country. They also discovered a horrible way to live beyond their normal span of years, and since that time all of their skill and strength has been devoted to retaining their lives and their rule. The Wolves are their chief tool.

The common folk have a prophecy that the Arkanan will be destroyed by a blind woman, a madman, and a wizard. Shan isn't blind, quite, but everything beyond arm's length is a blur. Could she be the blind woman of the prophecy?

In this genre, that's pretty much a rhetorical question. Of course she is, and of course the Arkanan are going to be destroyed. The only question is how. And the answer is, pretty well; it's an interesting ride.

So far as the book involves a young person going through a training regimen and growing into a destiny she only dimly understands, the book reminds me of something by L.E. Modesitt (and doesn't that tar Modesitt with a broad brush!). But there's also an element of suspense and claustrophic tension that reminds me of C.J. Cherryh. And like both of those authors, Ewan dumps you into Shan's world with a minimum of exposition--you have to watch and observe to figure out what's going on. This is generally considered to be a good thing.

On the whole, I'd say that I liked it. Once I got started I kept turning pages until I was done, which was for the better part of a long, lazy day. The writing is quietly competent, rather than flashy, and Shan's world has some neat aspects. At the same time, I'm not head-over-heels in love with the book.

I'm really quite curious to know how I'd have responded to Firedrake if I hadn't been asked to review it. Perhaps someday I'll pick it up again and read it just for fun, and then maybe I'll find out.

Posted by Will Duquette at February 5, 2004 08:43 PM

M. Decker said:

For all that you talked about reviewing it, you didn't do a very good job.

Will Duquette said:

How so?