‘Children of Fire’ struggles with a dependence on fantasy staples

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Children of FireOkay, disclaimer time. I’ve fervently loved nearly all Drew Karpyshyn’s Star Wars novels, and he’s not the person I’m holding responsible for Revan. This is his first fantasy series that isn’t a tie-in, and I really wanted to be able to gush about it and buy copies for all my friends. But Children of Fire wasn’t really anything special. It certainly wasn’t bad…it just wasn’t special.

You see, I do recommend Children of Fire. It’s a good solid fantasy read with all the elements we tend to love. It’s a bit of slow read to start, but what first book about a new world isn’t? When a friend says, “I’m bored and looking for an epic fantasy I haven’t read before,” I’ll ask if she’s read Children of Fire yet. But I just can’t get excited about this book. It’s the kind of book that finds a home in the to read someday category instead of the read the minute the book hits your hands one. You’re glad you read it, but you don’t have a drive to go shout about it in the middle of Costco.

A lot of the novel’s problems lie in pacing. The first handful of chapters randomly jump forward through time. It’s all spelled out, and you know you’re following the same four characters through childhood, but it feels choppy. It probably would have been a bit smoother to give each of the kids a chapter on their birth and childhood, and then start with the main narrative once they were all ready to start their real journeys. You might still be able to read it that way by flipping back and forth, and it would probably help you get interested in the characters.

Who for the most part are all people we’ve seen before. A Danaan Prince from the secretive and magical woodland realm who is a might scholar. The most powerful wizard among mortals. The devotee of a cult-like religion who believes that only her magic is acceptable. The thief who can’t help herself, and her Barbarian boyfriend. I’ve never even playing tabletop games, and I know these folks. Yet, there is something nice about simply meeting old favorites and not having to puzzle out anyone new and complex.

But the bigAnnihilationgest, most difficult problem to get past? The complete lack of helpful information about the good side, the evil side, the religions, the factions, the politics, and even the races. And for that I blame Star Wars.

This just didn’t feel like a first novel. There seemed to be an assumption that the reader would instantly know what Chaos was, and if it was good and bad. That we’d know what a Chaos mage was and who an Order member is, and that we’d understand why they hate each other. And then I started thinking about what it must be like to write Star Wars. Because in the EU, you don’t have to explain these things. You say he’s a Sith; we instantly class him as evil. You say she used the Force; we nod and continue. It’s completely the wrong way to write everything else.

So no, I’m afraid this isn’t the next blockbuster fantasy series. It’s a good book, and, I suspect, it will probably be a better series now that the groundwork is laid. Toward the end, the plot was beginning to pick up speed and the last few chapters were actually riveting. So a lot rides on the next installment. My recommendation? Definitely keep your eye out for a copy and pull it out for a winter’s read on the couch some weekend. Just go into it with the knowledge that it will be your basic fantasy story instead of something new.

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